The story of how rugby launched the Olympic Games Paris 1924
Though the majority of events on the programme at the Games of the VIII Olympiad took place in July 1924, the sporting action began on 4 May, with France and Romania kicking off a three-team 15-a-side rugby competition also involving the USA. The tournament came to a conclusion two weeks later, with the Americans winning their second rugby gold in a row.
In terms of their duration, the Olympic Summer Games Los Angeles 1932 set a standard for the future, lasting just 16 days from start to finish. In contrast, previous Games could stretch over several months, with Paris 1924 a case in point.
The Opening Ceremony of the Games of the VIII Olympiad was held at the Stade Olympique de Colombes on 5 July 1924. And while most of the events took place that same month, the second Summer Games to be held in the French capital had actually begun two months earlier with the start of the 15-a-side rugby competition. Contested by the host nation, Romania and the USA, it was held over three consecutive Sundays.
“An optional event at Antwerp 1920, rugby football was then made a full Olympic sport by the International Olympic Committee in Lausanne,” noted the official Paris 1924 report. Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the International Olympic Committee and its President until 1925, was a committed rugby fan. One of the leading proponents of the sport’s introduction in France at the end of the 19th century, he had also overseen its inclusion on the Olympic programme at Paris 1900.
With Great Britain showing no interest in taking part and South Africa, New Zealand and Australia unable to make the long journey to France, much to the regret of the official report’s authors, it was left to the host nation and the Romanians to battle it out for gold with the USA. The Americans were the reigning champions, having defeated the French 8-0 at Antwerp 1920. While the three-team field was small, it was a reflection of rugby’s Olympic beginnings, with only three teams taking part in the 1900 competition, and a mere two in 1908 and 1920.
USA 15 reign supreme
The Paris 1924 rugby tournament began on 4 May, with France running in 13 tries in a comprehensive 61-3 defeat of the Romanians at the Stade Olympique de Colombes. Four of the home side’s tries came from their electric winger Adolphe Jauréguy. A week later, a USA side captained by Antwerp 1920 gold medallist Colby Slater cruised to a 37-0 win against Romania. Centre Richard Hyland crossed for four of the tries, while second rower Jack Patrick scored a hat-trick.
That set the stage for an eagerly awaited rematch between the defending champions and the hosts, who were billed as favourites for the decider but were in actual fact fatigued after a long domestic season. Boasting a strong Californian contingent of Slater, Patrick, Charlie Doe, John O’Neill, Joseph Hunter, John Muldoon, Charles Mehan, Ruby Scholz and Charles Tilden, the powerful American side was made up of superb athletes who also excelled at basketball and American football.
The title holders quickly silenced the vociferous 20,000-strong home crowd, blunting a lacklustre French side with their power and speed, with Dudley DeGroot, Jack Patrick, Linn Farrish, William Rogers and Caesar Manelli running in a try apiece. France’s cause was hampered further when Jaureguy left the field with an injury.
The hosts salvaged some pride when André Béhoteguy chipped through for Henri Galau to score their only try, but the final 17-3 scoreline was a fair reflection of the Americans’ superiority.
The USA are only two-time Olympic champions of a sport that was promptly removed from the programme after Paris 1924 and made its return only 92 years later in Rio, in the shape of men’s and women’s rugby sevens.
That, however, is an entirely different story.