One of the highlights of these games will be the return of two events after long absences: golf and rugby.
Golf debuted in the 1900 Paris Olympics. It was held in coordination with the 1900 Exposition Universelle. Due to controversy among the committees of the two events – the Olympic games were poorly planned and executed. The golf event was open to anyone. It is said that some of the competitors just happened to be visiting in Paris and signed up to compete. Many of them were unaware they were even participating in an Olympic Games. Margaret Abbott, an American, won gold in the women’s event making her the first American woman to ever win an Olympic gold medal.
The 1904 Olympics in St. Louis featured 74 Americans and three Canadians in the golf event. The gold was won by 46-year old Canadian, George Lyon, and was considered to be a major upset. The 1908 games in London were supposed to host a golf event but disputes over eligibility caused most of the competitors to withdraw and the event was cancelled.
Golf will be played as an Olympic event again in Rio after a 112-year absence. Sixty players will compete in both the men’s and women’s event. The top 15 in the world as of July will be eligible. Only 4 players from each country will be permitted from the top 15. The rest will be determined by their world ranking and from that group only two athletes from each country will be eligible. Based upon these requirements it is foreseeable that some of the best US players will not make the cut. Considering the popularity of golf these days, and the number of world-renowned players who will be competing, this should be a very interesting event to watch.
Rugby also debuted in the 1900 Paris games, thanks largely to the support of Baron Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the modern Olympics, who was an avid fan of the game. It was played with 15 players on a team with France, Germany, and the UK competing in the inaugural event. France holds the distinction of being the first to win gold in rugby.
It would be eight years later before rugby was again to be played in the Olympics in the 1908 London games. Teams were sent invitations to play but only three agreed to participate: England, France, and Australia. France was unable to put a team together in time and withdrew leaving only England and Australia to play with Australia taking the gold.
This time 12 years would pass before another Olympic rugby event, the 1920 Antwerp games. Again many teams declined to play (some stating it was too early in the season) or withdrew at the last moment leaving only a US team and a French team to compete. The US team took the gold.
At the 1924 Paris games three teams competed: US, France, and Romania. It was a rematch between France and the US team for gold with the US team once again winning over the favorite. Coubertin left the IOC the following year and with him left the support for rugby to participate in the Olympic games.
After 92 years, rugby will once again be back in the Olympics at the 2016 Rio games. Throughout the 90’s and into the 21st century rugby has grown and become more organized with more teams active in World Rugby than ever before. It will be played as sevens this time around with 12 national teams competing in both the men’s and women’s events. Since the US men were the last to win Olympic gold in rugby in 1924, they will be the defending gold medalists. With the energy and enthusiasm of the world rugby community this should be a colorful event and I will be looking forward to New Zealand’s Haka as part of the festivities.
Check back monthly for more Olympic updates and commentary as I countdown to Rio 2016! For information on all things Olympic in Rio 2016 visit http://www.rio2016.com/en. To follow Team USA visit http://www.teamusa.org/.