Golf and rugby turn back clock in re-entering the Olympics

From the US team that won in a bloody battle to a Canadian who walked on his hands, Simon Turnbull discovers that the sports granted entry for 2016 have a rich history

In the end, when it came to the crunch of a vote by the International Olympic Committee in Copenhagen yesterday, it was a walkover for Rugby Sevens.

With 81 votes for and nine against, the truncated version of the oval-balled game gained admittance to the Olympic schedule for the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro in the fashion of Jonah Lomu trampling all over poor Tony Underwood in that World Cup semi-final of 1995.

As it happened, the former All Black wing of outhouse dimensions was in the Danish capital as part of the International Rugby Board team pressing the case for his sport. "I am joyous and ecstatic," the 34-year-old – soon to attempt a comeback with Marseilles – said. "It's great to see the future of rugby will be on the biggest stage of all."

Golf made it too, by a vote of 63-27, with Padraig Harrington and Michelle Wie in attendance, and Tiger Woods lending his support via video. It would have been rather fitting if Dame Shirley Bassey had been present, too. For the summer Olympics, it's all just a little bit of history repeating. Golf and rugby union have both been in the great five-ringed sporting circus before.

The reigning Olympic rugby champions, anyone? Why, the mighty U.S. of A, of course. They have reigned supreme – or rather, supremely unchallenged – since 18 May 1924. Their band of unlikely lads overwhelmed France 17-3 in the final that day, five tries to one, provoking a riot at Stade Colombes, the Parisian stadium where Harold Abrahams and Eric Liddell (a prolific try-scoring wing three-quarter for Scotland) rode their chariots of fire to Olympic track glory.

There was bad political blood between the countries at the time, and the difficulty encountered by the United States team when attempting to enter the country helped to stir the ill feeling that led to a brutal affair. Babe Slater, the farmer who captained the US XV, feared for the lives of his players, who had to be escorted from the pitch under police protection. Several American spectators were beaten unconscious and the playing of the "Star Spangled Banner" was drowned out by jeers at the victory ceremony.

Pierre de Coubertin, the French baron who founded the modern Olympic movement, was among the 40,000 crowd that day and, as president of the International Olympic Committee, was influential in rugby's removal from the Games programme. The sport returned to the fold yesterday with a message of welcome from the current IOC president Jacque Rogge. "Time will show our decision was wise," said the three-time Olympic yachtsman, and former Belgian rugby union international.

Technically speaking, the holder of the Olympic golf title is a colourful Canadian by the name of George Lyon, although sadly he will not be in Rio to defend his crown. He died in 1937.

Lyon triumphed in St Louis in 1904, at the age of 46. He had not picked up a golf club until he was 38 and his swing was so rugged he was described as "a coal hewer". In fact, he had been better accustomed to swinging a bat as a cricketer of note in his homeland. He was also the Canadian record holder in the pole vault.

Lyon caused quite a stir in St Louis, beating Chandler Egan, the 23-year-old US amateur champion, in the final and walking on his hands to collect his prize. The clowning Canadian could have collected another gold four years later but declined it out of respect for the game.

Lyon made the trip to London for the 1908 Games, only to find himself the sole entrant when the British players withdrew because of a clash with long-established domestic fixtures. Lyon was offered the gold medal by default but declined to accept it.

Still, he has his place in Olympic history. So does Constantin Henriquez de Zubiera, who played in the French team who won the first Olympic rugby title in Paris in 1900, beating a Great Britain side represented by Moseley Wanderers 27-8 in the final. He was the first black athlete to compete in the Olympic Games – and also won a silver medal in the tug-of-war.

Sadly for Britain, tug-of-war has been off the Olympic agenda since 1920. They were the last winners of the event in Antwerp that year. They also happen to be the last Olympic cricket champions. A Great Britain team otherwise known as the Devon and Somerset Wanderers beaten a "French" XI comprising workers from the local British Embassy in Paris in 1900. "Cricket is a sport which appears monotonous and without colour to the uninitiated," a French newspaper sniffed disapprovingly at the time.

Rugby and golf have been accepted for the next two Games, but subject to a review after Rio in 2016. There is still a chance for Twenty20 to sneak cricket into the 2020 Olympics.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Google celebrates the 126th anniversary of the Eiffel Tower opening its doors to the public for the first time
techGoogle celebrates Paris's iconic landmark, which opened to the public 126 years ago today
Cleopatra the tortoise suffers from a painful disease that causes her shell to disintegrate; her new prosthetic one has been custom-made for her using 3D printing technology
newsCleopatra had been suffering from 'pyramiding'
Arts and Entertainment
Coachella and Lollapalooza festivals have both listed the selfie stick devices as “prohibited items”
Nigel Owens was targeted on Twitter because of his sexuality during the Six Nations finale between England and France earlier this month
rugbyReferee Nigel Owens on coming out, and homophobic Twitter abuse
Arts and Entertainment
Tracey Emin visits her 1990s work ‘My Bed’ at Tate Britain in London, where it is back on display from today
artsBut how does the iconic work stand up, 16 years on?
Life and Style
life + style
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor