The Last Word: Why rugby and golf belong in the Olympics

Incredible tales of sportsmanship from days gone by prove that pastimes deserve slot in five-ringed circus

It seems that rugby union is to be reintroduced into the Olympic arena in a scaled-down form. Last contested in all its 15-man glory in 1924, the oval-ball game is in line for a return in 2016, but in its seven-a-side format.

Perhaps golf, which has also been recommended by the International Olympic Committee's executive board ahead of a vote by the full IOC membership in Copenhagen in October, should have pitched itself on the short side too. Olympic pitch and putt, anyone? Olympic crazy golf? Those windmills might have sorted out the real Tigers from the cubs.

Still, there is always the prospect of John Daly presenting him-self as a new-age Olympic role model, sporting a pair of his Smarties-design trousers and with a fag smouldering between his lips as he tees off on a practice round. The technically reigning – though actually long-deceased – Olympic champion of the fairway was something of a colourful character himself.

George Lyon was 46 when he travelled with the Canadian team to the 1904 Games in St Louis, youthful only by the Tom Watson scale. He had not picked up his first golf club until he was 38 and had a style so rugged it was suggested he looked like he was heaving coal rather than swinging an iron. In fact, he had been more accustomed to swinging a bat, as a cricketer of some renown in the land of the Maple Leaf. He was also the Canadian record holder in the pole vault.

No-one expected the man from Richmond, Ontario, to get through a 72-strong field as far as the match-play competition for the gold medal. And no-one gave the fortysomething an earthly of beating his opponent, Chandler Egan, a 23-year-old US amateur champion. The youth and vigour of the American were supposed to win the day.

In the end, Egan could only marvel as his opponent sang and cracked jokes in the rain and sent drives booming into the distance. He was nonplussed when Lyon walked on his hands to receive the $1,500 sterling silver winner's trophy and his Olympic gold medal. The clowning Canadian could have collected another gold four years later, but he declined out of respect for the game.

Lyon made the trip to London for the 1908 Games, only to find himself as the sole entrant. By slotting the tournament into the first week in June, the British Olympic Association stirred up opposition from the Royal & Ancient Golf Club for clashing with established domestic events. All of the British golfers withdrew from the competition and no Americans were prepared to make the trip. Lyon was offered the gold medal by default but he declined to accept it. He died in 1938, aged 79, but now the sport in which he made his most profound mark is poised for an Olympic resurrection. It will be all the more welcome in the quadrennial five- ringed circus if it can bring class acts like George Seymour Lyon to the greatest sporting show on earth. Ditto rugby sevens.

The oval-ball game first appeared in the Olympic arena, in its 15-a-side guise, in those London Games of 1908. The original Wallabies, the first touring Australian national side, became champions almost by default. The world's leading nations having declined to enter the competition, they found themselves playing Cornwall – representing Britain because they had won the English county championship – for the Olympic title.

On a makeshift pitch next to the open-air Olympic swimming pool at Shepherd's Bush, the Australians won 32-3 – under the captaincy of Herbert Moran, who gained considerable fame in later life as an eminent physician and author. It was Moran who objected to the aboriginal war dance the original Wallabies were forced to perform by the Australian rugby authorities, who wanted a rival ritual to the haka popularised by the All Black "Originals" in 1905. The good Dr Moran considered the treatment of Australia's indigenous population such a disgrace that he successfully fought for the abolition from future Wallaby tours of what he called "a wretched caricature of a native corroboree".

He had one other notable success on that historic 1908 trip. Concerned that his players would catch venereal disease during the first few weeks on board the SS Omrah, Moran made them attend daily lectures about the ailment, showing them graphic pictures of gravely afflicted private parts. He warned that any player who contracted the disease would be sent home in disgrace. None were. "I count this as a real achievement for both them and for me," he observed in his autobiography, Viewless Winds.

Dan Carroll was one of those who returned home with a gold medal and a clean bill of health. The flying winger also won a gold as player-coach with the victorious American team in Antwerp in 1920, then guided the US to victory in the 1924 final in Paris. The United States have reigned as Olympic rugby champions ever since – because of the riot provoked by their 17-3 success against the French at Stade Colombes.

An ill-tempered affair ended with the US team being booed, hissed and spat upon by Parisians. Two Americans sitting in the main stand were beaten unconscious as Carroll and his players were escorted from the field under police protection. The playing of "The Star Spangled Banner" was drowned out by jeers at the victory ceremony. The playing of rugby at the Olympics duly sank thereafter, though not without trace, it would seem.

News
Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Sport
Louis van Gaal would have been impressed with Darren Fletcher’s performance against LA Galaxy during Manchester United’s 7-0 victory
football
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Voices
The new dawn heralded by George Osborne has yet to rise
voicesJames Moore: As the Tories rub their hands together, the average voter will be asking why they're not getting a piece of the action
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Sport
Rhys Williams
commonwealth games
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
life
Arts and Entertainment
Southern charm: Nicolas Cage and Tye Sheridan in ‘Joe’
filmReview: Actor delivers astonishing performance in low budget drama
News
Isis fighters travel in a vehicle as they take part in a military parade along the streets of Syria's northern Raqqa province
i100
Life and Style
fashionLatex dresses hit the catwalk to raise awareness for HIV and Aids
Travel
travel
Life and Style
The veteran poverty campaigner Sir Bob Geldof issues a stark challenge to emerging economies at the Melbourne HIV/Aids conference
health
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and John Malkovich talk Penguins of Madagascar at Comic-Con
comic-con 2014Cumberbatch fans banned from asking about Sherlock at Comic-Con
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Pratt stars in Guardians of the Galaxy
filmGuardians Of The Galaxy should have taken itself a bit more seriously, writes Geoffrey Macnab
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Day In a Page

Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform