U.S. women’s rugby team qualifies for 2024 Paris Olympics as medal contender

Cheta Emba

The U.S. women’s rugby team qualified for the 2024 Paris Olympics by clinching a top-four finish in this season’s World Series.

Since rugby was re-added to the Olympics in 2016, the U.S. men’s and women’s teams finished fifth, sixth, sixth and ninth at the Games.

The U.S. women are having their best season since 2018-19, finishing second or third in all five World Series stops so far and ranking behind only New Zealand and Australia, the winners of the first two Olympic women’s rugby sevens tournaments.

The U.S. also finished fourth at last September’s World Cup.

Three months after the Tokyo Games, Emilie Bydwell was announced as the new U.S. head coach, succeeding Olympic coach Chris Brown.

Soon after, Tokyo Olympic co-captain Abby Gustaitis was cut from the team.

Jaz Gray, who led the team in scoring last season and at the World Cup, missed the last three World Series stops after an injury.

The U.S. men are ranked ninth in this season’s World Series and will likely need to win either a North American Olympic qualifier this summer or a last-chance global qualifier in June 2024 to make it to Paris.

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U.S. to host Rugby World Cups in 2031, 2033

Rugby World Cup

The United States will stage a Rugby World Cup for the first time after being voted as the host of the men’s tournament in 2031 and the women’s tournament two years later.

World Rugby announced the host nations for all the World Cups from 2025-33 after a meeting of its council in Dublin on Thursday, with Australia also staging back-to-back tournaments in 2027 (men) and 2029 (women).

In 2016, rugby returned to the Olympics for the first time since 1924, though the Olympic version is rugby sevens, which differs from the 15-per-side Rugby World Cup. The U.S. hosted the men’s and women’s Rugby World Cup Sevens for the first time in 2018 in San Francisco.

The sport is breaking new ground by taking the men’s 15-a-side tournament — World Rugby’s most lucrative asset — to North America, with the governing body regarding it as an area of untapped potential in both a commercial and sporting sense. The women’s World Cup was played in Canada in 2006.

USA Rugby chief executive Ross Young described the decision as a “paradigm-shifting catalyst for the growth of our sport, not only here in the United States but around the world.”

“USA Rugby will now venture into a new era,” Young added, “and ensure the sport’s most treasured event is a springboard for creating lasting, sustainable enthusiasm and passion for rugby from coast to coast.”

Hosting the two World Cups will cost around $500 million, with profits and losses shared between World Rugby and USA Rugby. More than 20 American cities are potential hosts for World Cup matches, USA Rugby has said.

The bid received support from the White House, with U.S. President Joe Biden sending a letter to World Rugby last month giving governmental guarantees and his backing for the “development of rugby in the United States.”

The men’s Rugby World Cup is regarded in some parts of the world as the third biggest sporting event, after the soccer World Cup and the Summer Olympics.

The United States is hosting all three events in a five-year span from 2026, starting with the men’s soccer World Cup that year — with Mexico and Canada as co-hosts — and then the Olympics in Los Angeles in 2028.

“The unparalleled growth made possible by bringing the world’s third-largest sports event and the fastest growing women’s event to the world’s largest sports market cannot be overstated,” USA Rugby said.

The Sydney Harbour Bridge was lit up in green and gold after World Rugby’s announcement, which sees the men’s tournament returning to Australia for the first time since 2003.

It is being viewed as a chance to rejuvenate rugby in the country as the World Cups come after the British and Irish Lions tour of Australia in 2025, bringing much-needed revenue to its governing body — Rugby Australia — that was badly hit by the pandemic.

Rugby Australia chief executive Andy Marinos called it “the start of a new era for Australian Rugby.”

“Australia will become the center of the rugby world over the next decade,” he said, “and that is incredibly exciting.”

The 2027 tournament will be the 40th anniversary of Australia and New Zealand hosting the first Rugby World Cup in 1987.

For the first time, World Rugby is using a new partnership hosting model as part of a streamlined bid process. Australia had already been named as the “preferred candidate” for the 2027 and ’29 tournaments while the United States had entered “exclusive targeted dialogue” with World Rugby for the 2031 men’s tournament.

England was announced as the host of the women’s World Cup in 2025.

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Great Britain denies U.S. in gold-medal game for its first wheelchair rugby medal

2020 Tokyo Paralympics - Day 5
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Great Britain wiped away the United States’ hopes of returning to the top of the Paralympic wheelchair rugby podium Sunday night when it won its first medal in the sport, taking the gold 54-49.

With the victory, Kylie Grimes became the first woman to win Paralympic gold in the sport. The 33-year-old also competed in wheelchair rugby at the 2012 Paralympic Games and track and field in Rio five years ago.

The U.S. has historically been one of the most dominant forces in wheelchair rugby, a mixed-gender sport also known as murderball, since its Paralympic debut in 1996 and remains the only nation to medal at all seven Paralympic Games — with three gold, two silver and two bronze medals.

The Americans’ last gold medal came at the 2008 Beijing Paralympics, though, taking bronze in London then silver in Rio.

Great Britain had previously done as best as reaching the bronze-medal match three times, finishing fourth in 1996, 2004 and 2008. The British had never medaled at the world championships, either, placing fourth three times there as well.

Both teams were playing in Group B in Tokyo and held a 2-0 record until they faced each other in their final preliminary game on Friday, when the U.S. came out on top, edging the Brits 50-48.

In Saturday’s semifinals, the U.S. beat Australia 49-42 and Great Britain took down Japan 55-49, ensuring they would meet again.

Host country Japan went on to claim bronze, 60-52, on Sunday, denying the two-time reigning Paralympic champion Australia its fifth medal in program history.

Chuck Aoki, a three-time Paralympian and one of the U.S.’ two Opening Ceremony flag bearers at these Games, started the scoring in the gold-medal game, then Great Britain’s Jim Roberts earned with his team’s first try seven seconds later.

Great Britain held the lead throughout, with the U.S. tying it up four times in the first period, then again seven times in the third, but was never able to do anything more than that.

Entering the final period down by one at 37-36, the U.S. again matched Great Britain’s score four times but continued to trail throughout the final six minutes.

Roberts led the game in scoring with 24 tries, while 41-year-old Josh Wheeler did the brunt for the U.S. at 21, followed by Aoki’s 18.

Aoki had led the Americans in scoring for all four previous matches, ending the tournament with 109 tries.

A full Paralympic Games broadcast schedule is available here. Events can also be streamed on NBCOlympics.com and the NBC Sports app, with more info available here.

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