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Dan Carroll: rugby's greatest Olympian

Expert
7th August, 2008
8
2557 Reads

The well-informed Olympics fan will probably know the answer to the question of which Australians won gold medals at three successive Games?

Shirley de la Hunty (nee Strickland) at the Games of 1952, 1956 and 1960 is one correct answer. Dawn Fraser, in the 100m swimming in 1956,1960 and 1964, is another.

But what about Dan Carroll?

He was involved in a gold medal for Rugby in 1908 as Wallaby, then as the player-coach of the successful American side in 1920. And at the Paris Games in 1924, he coached the successful American side.

The 1924 Olympics was Pierre de Coubertin’s swansong and the IOC rewarded him by taking rugby off the list of Olympic sports, even though rugby was Coubertin’s favourite game (he refereed the first French club championship final in 1892) and it was his passionate belief that rugby was the epitome of an Olympic sport.

In much the same way that rugby has been treated poorly by the Olympic movement (it’s ludicrous that synchronised swimming, for instance, is in the Games), so too has the memory of Dan Carroll
been blotted out of Australia’s Olympic folklore.

Perhaps this is unduly defensive on my part, but the fact that Carroll’s first gold medal was won when the Wallabies defeated Cornwall-England in 1908 may have something to do with his lack of fame.

Among the Sydney journalistic community, particularly, it’s been fashionable since 1908 to dismiss rugby union as a rah rah sport that is somehow slightly un-Australian.

Harry Gordon in his magisterial book ‘Australia and the Olympic Games’ virtually dismisses Carroll’s second gold medal in this way: “Ironically, the only gold Australian to carry away a gold medal from the 1920 Olympics was Dan Carroll, the playing coach of the American team and a former winger with the Wallabies.”

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Note to Harry Gordon: you should have mentioned that Carroll was the first Australian to win two Olympic gold medals.

Dan Carroll was educated at St Aloysius College and Sydney University, where he studied dentistry.

He was the youngest player in the 1908 Australian side to tour Britain, which was given the nickname of The Wallabies.

He was a quicksilver winger who was clocked at ‘evens’ in the 100 yards as a schoolboy.

Most of this side defected to rugby league when they got back to Australia. Dr Herbert Moran, the team’s captain and later a Macquarie Street cancer specialist, and Carroll, were exceptions.

In 1912 Carroll was selected to tour California with an Australian side which defeated All-America 12-8. The American newspapers, aware of Australia’s Olympic gold medal, dubbed the visitors “the world champions of rugby.”

Carroll stayed on at Stanford University where he took a degree in geology in 1920.

He played for All-America against the All Blacks in 1913, a Test won by NZ 51-3, a scoreline that is said to have killed off interest in rugby as an American sport.

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He served in the American Army in the First World War and went on to play, despite having been wounded, for the Australian Army in the King’s Cup tournament (a mini-Rugby World Cup) in 1919.

The ARU Archives have some documents on Carroll, including some correspondence conducted by his niece with the US Army Reserve Personnel Command concerning the whereabouts of his Dinstinguished Service Cross won during the First World War.

The ARPC confirmed that Carroll had married in Montana in 1927, had one son Daniel – who is deceased – and that his wife Helen died in 1941.

There are some sad sentences at the end of the correspondence: “We believe D.B.Carroll remarried and lived in San Bernardino. However, family in Australia had his last known address in New Orleans. Date of death 1956/7 (?).”

A hundred years on from his first Olympic triumph, it is surely time to rescue Dan Carroll’s story from oblivion.

He should be honoured as a truly great Australian sports hero, the nation’s first to win two Olympic gold medals.