Once in a Blue moon: Can this Olympic gold medallist do the double?

GOING from being an Olympic gold medallist and Australia's rugby sevens player of the year to a part-time athlete might seem like a demotion without context. 

Anyone who thinks that doesn't understand how Chloe Dalton's mind works. 

Carlton's fast-improving midfielder watched the first AFLW season in 2017 with admiration and curiosity, and – despite living away from the AFL bubble in Sydney – imagined herself one day playing the sport.

Just as the 26-year-old spent several seasons also competing in the WNBL for Sydney Uni Flames. 

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It was the Blues' then-AFLW list manager Graham Burgen who envisioned trying to convert one of Australia's all-conquering rugby sevens stars into an Australian Football player. 

Only a handful of days after accepting Burgen's offer to play for Carlton's VFLW team, Dalton packed her bags for Melbourne – and not even with a promise she would be drafted. 

Soon after she was putting her hard-earned university degree into action as a physiotherapist to help pay the bills while her new football journey began. 

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"I knew there'd be a lot I'd have to learn and a lot of hard work that would go into it but it was something I would have loved the opportunity to do," Dalton told womens.afl.

"It probably came up sooner than what I expected but … I enjoy putting myself in a situation that's challenging, where I can learn more about myself as an athlete and challenge my physical and mental capacity."  

Dalton's rugby career was over at that stage, especially when she showed enough ability to sign as a rookie for the Blues last season. 

Australia's rugby sevens coach John Manenti never gave up hope, staying in close contact with her, even as she pursued another sport.

That relationship was pivotal as Manenti coaxed Dalton back to rugby in November last year, ahead of the Olympics – again without a guarantee she will make the squad for Tokyo. 

Importantly, the arrangement still enabled her to play the 2020 AFLW season for Carlton. 

Chloe Dalton is going for gold at Tokyo. Picture: AFL Photos

The carrot of being able to join the likes of basketball megastar Lauren Jackson as a multiple Olympian was another driving force behind the decision.

Dalton quit her physiotherapy duties to again focus purely on being an athlete, albeit juggling the requirements of two diverse sports.

The transition to working a 'day job' had a dramatic effect on her. 

She played at 71kg at the 2016 Olympics, plunged to 63kg for the AFLW season last year – not by choice and mostly as a consequence of not being full-time – and is back to 69kg now. 

Dalton was in the gym six days a week leading into the season but has wound that back slightly since she's started playing again. 

"It made me really appreciate the opportunity that came with being a full-time athlete, because I really missed that once I started working," Dalton said. 

"I really enjoyed working as a physio and building relationships with clients and being able to use my degree that took me six years to get. 

"Now I have the opportunity to be a full-time athlete again; I can appreciate how much more I can invest, not just from a time perspective, but even rocking up to training and not being fatigued from a full day of work."

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Chloe Dalton converts from inside the centre square

Dalton played in the Blues' losing Grand Final side last year and has hopes of winning an extraordinary double: an AFLW premiership and Olympic gold in the same year.

Australia's rugby sevens side hasn't won a major international event since she departed but remains a strong contender. 

Dalton was one of Carlton's best players in last week's crucial victory over Melbourne in Darwin and will be important on Sunday as the Blues try to beat Brisbane and progress to a preliminary final

"It would be pretty epic to be able to achieve both of those things in one year," she said. 

"It's been really cool this year with the Carlton girls – just the way we've progressed as a team and had a lot of faith in the structure the coaching staff have put into play. 

"New Zealand are our biggest rivals (at the Olympics) and they've been really successful over the past couple of years, so it'll be a big challenge but I don't think it's unlikely." 

Carlton shouldn't give up on Dalton being back in navy blue next season, with that decision still to be made.