In 1924 the world gathered in Paris to participate in gentlemanly competition and sport. This gathering was brought to modern memory, well… relatively modern memory, in the 1981 best picture winning film, Chariots of Fire. In this film, and in history, a group of British runners excel against great odds to earn victory and honor.
That film missed the best part.
The day before the track and field events, the United States Rugby team defeated France to win the gold medal.
By 1924 the United States had fully embraced American Football and forgotten the oblong ball. In the lead up to the Olympics, a group of interested men in San Francisco raised funds to send a team of Yanks to Paris. They scraped up a few familiar with the game, then added a number of Stanford basketball and football players to round out the squad. They learned the game while steaming across the Atlantic and arrived ready to play.
And play they did, beating Romania 37-0 and then capturing the gold against the hometown team 17-3.
Sporting the best looking uniforms the Americans have ever worn (true to this day), the Californians not only kicked, but stomped, the hornet’s nest. In the opening acts of the game, Stanford basketball captain Lefty Rogers, knocked the French star unconscious. By the end of the game a riot had erupted in the stands and the American national anthem could not be heard over the chorus of boos and rabble of the crowd. One player was beaten with a walking stick and the team was granted a police escort to the locker room.
Rugby was never played in the Olympics again.
Next month the world will gather to play rugby. The world cup, held every four years, is the planet’s fourth most watched television event. The American’s are not expected to win… a game. But the games have not yet been played and time will tell.
But there is more than hope on the horizon. When the summer Olympic games kick off in Brazil, rugby will be represented. We will enter the games as the sport’s defending gold medalists, and as such, we can dream of defending that award and hopefully we will be wearing that shield on our chests.