TWO YEARS ago we reported on the interwar USA rugby team, which won back-to-back Olympic gold medals despite the fact many of the team were strangers to the game, writes Rugby World deputy editor Alan Pearey. Now Mark Ryan has delved deeper to add flesh to this extraordinary story (albeit that they had only France to beat in 1920, and only France and Romania as opponents four years later).
Ryan’s tale revolves around shy farmer Babe Slater and brash lawyer Rudy Scholz, who emerged as key figures in the American side that felled France 17-3 in the 1924 final in Paris. It was probably the dirtiest rugby match ever played, skipper Slater repeatedly pleading with the Welsh referee to NOT send off a succession of Frenchmen for dastardly deeds. Slater reasoned that his team’s very lives would be endangered by any dismissals, such was the fury of a crowd that, already anti-American in sentiment because of political tensions between the two nations, had been angered by the visitors’ complaints about poor treatment in preceding weeks – the USA team had even formed a scrum to take on French immigration officials! When the Americans then shocked the French in the Olympic final, the anger in the stands spilled over, a number of American spectators being attacked and hospitalized.
Pierre de Coubertin, the IOC president, was in the crowd that shameful day and rugby was thrown out of the Olympic movement. On 9 October 2009, the IOC officially voted to admit rugby (sevens) back into the Games – and this time the French better keep their cool. Still, it might have been worse: one event considered for the 1920 Games in Antwerp was… grenade-throwing.
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This article appeared in the November 2009 issue of Rugby World Magazine
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