The first thing that is apparent to Ryan's book is the amount of research he put into the project. As a trained historian, I know that the hardest part of any historical research projects is trying to get people you have never met and who lived in a time far removed from your time to come alive. Ryan's biggest success is being able to bring to life the personalities of not only Babe Slater and Rudy Scholz--his two main protagonists--but the rest of the 1920 and 1924 Olympic rugby teams. This only comes though countless hours of research and interviews with family members that take a situation purely from a factual happening to a living event. While Ryan sometimes is guilty of putting thoughts and feelings into the minds of his characters, the amount of research Ryan put into the project gives him the highest level of insight into these characters as possible, making such an act excusable.
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Ryan also lets the story speak for itself. Too often authors in similar circumstances try to make the situation bigger than it really is. Ryan avoids that temptation and tends to let the story play out in its own circumstances and time. The players on the 1920 and 1924 teams were colorful enough to make for an intriguing story, which is what Ryan allows them to do. He also does an excellent job of allowing the time period to shine through without putting on too much contemporary spin. His characters seem natural because they are in their natural habitat. Scholz and Slater are natural protagonists. While both are similar in their drive and determination to win, their differences expose them as human. In that sense they are incredibly relatable. They deserve credit for helping hold together both the 1920 and 1924 teams and for leading the U.S. to arguably one of its greatest sporting triumphs.
By managing the characters and scene well, Ryan allows the reader to pick up on the adversity facing the teams. For American rugby fans, the adversity faced by the 1920 and 1924--lack of money, rugby not being a mainstream sport, cross-over athletes, the judgement of traditional rugby powers, etc.--is extremely relatable. Even though almost a century has past since these teams won their Gold medals, the American rugby community is facing these same difficulties. At the same time, the way these teams were able to overcome this adversity reminds us why rugby, specifically American rugby, is the greatest in the world; no matter what obstacles are placed in front of us, we are able to overcome them.
Overall, I not only value Ryan's book as a reminder of our history, but as a charge to overcome any obstacle and to improve. What put the teams above their French challengers in both the 1920 and 1924 Olympics was their commitment to the cause and a belief in themselves. If we show the same type of commitment and belief, we too can do great things.
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P.S. Somebody should really make a movie from this story.