Rugby union at the 1924 Summer Olympics
|Men's rugby union
at the Games of the VIII Olympiad
|Dates||4 May–18 May|
|Competitors||54 from 3 nations|
In September 1923, the U.S. Olympic Committee once again agreed to send an American rugby team to the 1924 Paris Olympics to defend their title. The French Olympic Committee (FOC) had scheduled the rugby event to kick off the 1924 Paris Games, and lowly Romania and the USA were to provide only token opposition for the European Champions, France the team was picked to win the gold medal in grand style.
A Stanford All-American halfback, Norman Cleaveland who was one of the first athletes to respond to the call putout through the press in the Fall of 1923, he said "They were looking for a punching bag ... We were told to go to Paris and take our beatings like gentlemen". Nevertheless, seven players of the 1920 team together with a host of large American football players making up a 22 man squad, raised $20,000 and headed for England to prepare where they were beaten four times in practice sessions. The coach Charles Austin was relying on his team's size, speed, stamina, and raw athletic ability to compensate for its technical deficiencies.
The USA Olympic rugby team arrived in Paris, via England on 27 April 1924, after a 6,000 mile journey by train, bus, ship, and ferry from Oakland, California. The young American athletes expected to be welcomed to France with kisses on both cheeks, they were unpleasantly surprised. The team was the target of hostility even before the players set foot on French soil. French journalists branded them "streetfighters and saloon brawlers" after a brouhaha in the port of Boulogne where immigration officials mistakenly refused the team entry, and the players – many of whom had been seasick during the turbulent crossing – forced their way off the ship onto dry land.
The American rugby players' reputation only deteriorated. When Paris authorities cancelled previously arranged games against local club teams and restricted American workouts to a patch of scrub land next to their hotel, the players responded by marching down to Colombes Stadium, scaling the fence, and going through their paces on the hallowed turf.
France versus. Romania
The Olympic games of 1924 opened on 4 May with a match between France and Romania. Playing its first fifteen, the French notched a 61 to 3 victory (some say 59-3) over the smaller eastern European team, scoring 13 tries including four by the fine Stade Francais winger Adolphe Jauréguy.
After the match, another round of trouble started over the referee for the France - USA match. An earlier selection of British Admiral Percy Royds was deemed unacceptable by US team manager Sam Goodman. The dispute degraded into the French no longer providing any practice fields for the team, so the Americans found themselves a park. Fanning the flames, the French press published an article by a Paris City Counselor questioning the amateur status of the American players. The Americans invited the Frenchman to come down to the pitch to discuss the matter. To make matters worse, an argument started over the French Olympic Committee's ruling that the American side could not film their match against Romania that weekend. A French company had been awarded sole rights to filming the Olympics, and an American request to film the match was flatly denied. A meeting on the 8th did not resolve the issue, so Sam Goodman told the French organizers that the US might pull out of the Games.
Adding fuel to the fire, the American players' clothes were robbed during that day's training session. Even though a French attendant had been posted, the team lost about $4,000 worth of cash and possessions. Cleaveland and his teammates were not very happy, and because of their treatment in the press, the American side was now being cursed and spat upon on in the streets of Paris. The American expatriate community in Paris was even staying well clear of them. The French press were now whipped up fierce anti-American sentiment in Paris.
The next day, the French agreed to allow the Romanian match to be filmed for historical and educational purposes. A selection featuring only six of the US starting fifteen was also announced for the match.
USA versus. Romania
On Sunday, 11 May, the US pounded Romania 39 to 0 at Colombes Stadium. With Norman at flyhalf, Richard Hyland at center, and Jack Patrick at flanker, the US ran rampant through the Romanians, scoring nine tries.
Fullback Charlie Doe had a good day kicking, scoring 13 points. With the impressive win, though, a difficult situation was brewing. Each time the Americans touched the ball, the French crowd of about 6000 booed and hissed. Conversely, they cheered and screamed each time the Romanians gained any possession, even though the Americans never let the Romanians within kicking distance of their own goal, and won every lineout and all but one scrum. And though everyone felt that the Americans would play a harsh, physical match, both the American and French sporting press noted the lack of violence and the skilled nature of US play, coupled with their size and fitness. Some of the French press even conceded that the fans had been unfair at the match. Still the odds were set at 5 to 1 against the US with a 20 point spread in the upcoming match with France. Two days later, the issue over the final's referee was settled when Sam Freethy of Wales was selected. That day, the team also moved from their hotel to the newly constructed Olympic housing. It seemed that the hotel's proprietor became upset that night before due to "a little college cheering and rollicking" by the American players.
During the final between France and the United States at Colombes Stadium, French fans booed and hissed the American team for the remainder of the game after star player Adolphe Jauréguy was flattened by a hard tackle two minutes after the opening whistle, leaving him unconscious with blood pouring down his face and having to be carried off the field on a stretcher. In the second half, French fans threw bottles and rocks onto the field and at American players and officials, wild brawls broke out in the stands, U.S. reserve Gideon Nelson was knocked unconscious after being hit in the face by a walking stick, and French fans invaded the pitch at the final whistle, leaving the French team, aided by the police, to protect the Americans. At the medal ceremony, The Star Spangled Banner was drowned out by the booing and hissing of French fans, and the American team had to be escorted to their locker room under police protection.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Rugby union at the 1924 Summer Olympics.|
- Rugby at the 1924 Olympics
- 1924 Olympics rugby revisited
- List of medalists from databaseOlympics.com