15 fifteen-a-side rugby had been included as an event at the Olympics since 1900. The founder of the Olympic movement, Pierre de Coubertin, had visited Rugby School in 1883. There he was introduced to rugby football and discussed the merits of physical education with the headmaster. De Coubertin became a life-long rugby enthusiast and it is therefore no surprise that the sport featured in early editions of the games.
The 1924 Olympics were held in Paris and the hosts were hot favourites to claim a gold medal that they had last won in 1900. France were competing regularly at this time in the 5 Nations Championship but none of their championship rivals were present for the Olympic tournament. Instead opposition came from two developing sides, Romania and the USA.
Romania were no match for the hosts and France notched thirteen tries, including four from their outstanding wing Adolphe Jaureguy. The final, against the USA, would be held at Stade Colombes and was expected to be a walkover.
The Americans, like the Romanians, were a developing rugby nation and many of their 22 man squad were more familiar with American Football than rugby. In preparation they had played and lost a series of games against English clubs, including Harlequins and Blackheath.
What the Americans lacked in technique, they more than made up for in muscle and they set their stall out for a physical confrontation with the French. An already hostile home crowd was incensed when, after just two minutes, star player Jaureguy was knocked unconscious and had to be stretchered from the field.
The USA scored three unanswered tries to race into an 11-0 lead before the French could land their first points. The second-half atmosphere at the Stade Colombes was one that would be unfamiliar to rugby fans of that generation or this. At the time Franco-American relations were considerably strained due to disagreements over German war reparations and the French crowd took to booing and hissing the American team.
USA extended their lead in the second half and ill-feeling in the crowd threatened to boil over completely as the French suffered two further injuries and had a player sent off for violent conduct. The game finished 17-3 in the Americans favour, several spectators were attacked and the team needed a police escort to exit the field.
All of this unpleasantness perhaps influenced the decision not to include rugby at subsequent Olympic Games and overshadowed the quite astonishing achievement of what was little more than a scratch team in winning the gold medal for the USA.
Since fifteen-a-side rugby has never returned to the Olympics the USA side remains the reigning Olympic champions.