The last time any variation of rugby was played in the Olympics the year was 1924. Rugby was first introduced as an Olympic sport in 1900. Dating back to 1900, Rugby was featured in the Olympics only four times (1900, 1908, 1920 and 1924). Out of those four Olympics the United States only competed twice (1920 and 1924). Team U.S.A was the rugby juggernaut in the 1920 (defeated France 8-0) and 1924 (defeated France 17-3) Olympics earning two straight gold medals. Please keep in mind that the rugby style played in the aforementioned Olympics is not the same style that will be viewed in the 2016 Rio Olympics. The 2016 Rio Olympics will feature rugby sevens. Rugby sevens is a game that involves seven players instead of the original 15 players. The teams may carry 15 players on their rosters but only seven players are on the field at once. The major difference between rugby and rugby sevens is the speed of the game. Sevens scores’ are generally comparable to regular rugby scores; but scoring occurs much more frequently in sevens, due to the fact that defenders are more spaced out.
***In the remainder of the article I will be using team U.S.A. and Eagles (which is the designated U.S.A. Sevens team nickname).***
Fast forward to 2015 a new rugby juggernaut in the west is rising. Team U.S.A the two-time defending Olympic Gold Medal Champions, is looking to defend their title. Only one weekend in February (13th -15th) stands between them and the dream of becoming Olympians. The weekend of February 13th the Eagles will head to Las Vegas to battle some of the best teams in the world in the HSBC World Series.The following 16 teams will meet the Eagles in the HSBC World Series in Las Vegas: Argentina, Australia, Canada, England, France, Fiji, Kenya, New Zealand, Portugal, Samoa, Scotland, South Africa, Spain, Uruguay and Wales.The aforementioned Vegas event is crucial for team U.S.A which is battling with Canada for the lone remaining North American spot for Rio in 2016. I spoke with William Holder, a member of the Eagles, after practice to see how confident the team is on making the Olympics. “We are looking forward to making a strong run in the Olympics and we feel pretty confident about our chances to make the Olympics.”Team U.S.A defeated Canada this past summer and with a strong finish in Las Vegas should give them the final qualifying spot so they may attempt to defend their Olympic Gold Medals. Holder is urging all team U.S.A fans to pack the stadium in Vegas and cheer team U.S.A on to victory and hopefully a birth in Rio in 2016.
I got to spend the morning of January 28th watching the Eagles practice at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, California. The Eagles were getting their last practice in before their flight out to New Zealand on the afternoon of January 28th to play a friendly game getting ready for Las Vegas. The Eagles are going to be very exciting to watch in Vegas and the Olympics if they make it. The Eagles are shredded and exude strength and toughness. The Eagles also have two of the fastest athletes in the rugby world. I spoke with Holder once again to find out what the best quality of the Eagles is. “I think our best quality is our athleticism. We bring an athleticism aspect that many of the other countries don’t have,” Holder said. “A lot of the other countries have been playing rugby their whole lives but when you look at people like Carlin Isles, who is the fastest player in world rugby, and Perry Baker is who probably in the top three, you can see our athleticism is what defines us.” Isles 100 meter time of 10.13 seconds would have been good enough for the semi-finals at the London 2012 Summer Olympic Games.
Lastly I asked Holder what it is like representing your country on the international stage. “It is a dream come true to compete on the international circuit,” Holder said. “The last time I was out there we saw 80,000 fans in England and it’s kind of surreal. Every time you can go out and put on your country’s colors it is very humbling.” Holder was one of the best members of the team to which to ask that question as he is a graduate of The Academy (United States Military Academy at West Point). The Eagles are made up of former American football players (College, NFL and Arena), professional rugby stars, ex military and more.
The following table shows all Olympic Medals that have been awarded in Rugby (1900, 1908, 1920 and 1924).
***San Diego also has a local man on the Eagles, Chris Turori. Turori is from Valley Center, California, and attended Palomar Junior College. Part of the reason I attended the Eagles practice was to get an interview with our San Diegan Chris Turori but due to hand surgery last week he was not with the team. I was told by Turori’s teammates that he would rejoin the team next week in their preparation for HSBC World Series Event in Las Vegas.***
It is not just the Vegas Sevens tournament that will determine what teams will play in the Olympics. The entire 2014-2015 Sevens World Series (nine tournaments) will serve as a part of the qualifying.The top four ranked teams (Fiji, South Africa, Australia & New Zealand) at the end of the series in May have automatic bids to be in the Olympic tournament. Brazil has an automatic bid as the host county and the remaining seven teams for the Olympic tournament will be determined through continental/regional tournaments and then a final Olympic qualifying tournament (more info).
Thank You to the Chula Vista Olympic Training Center for allowing me to cover this practice.
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