Article by Brenda Lynn and Brandon Fabel, Museum of Polo & Hall of Fame
With the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in full swing after last year’s heartbreaking postponement, it is a fitting time to reflect on its past, as well as polo’s, and appreciate the Olympic Games’ enduring status as one of the ultimate challenges of sports.
Unfortunately, polo is no longer played as an Olympic sport, but it has been in the past. The last time polo was included as an event was eighty-five years ago, in August of 1936 in Berlin, Germany. America did not participate, however Argentina would take the gold medal 15-5 over Great Britain. Mexico would defeat Hungary for the bronze medal match 16-2, with the hosts, Germany, ending in fifth place overall.
The history of polo in the Olympics is quite out of the ordinary. Polo was played in 1900, 1908, 1920, 1924, and 1936 and Americans only competed in three out of these five events: 1900, 1920 and 1924. Oddly, there was no Olympic polo played at all in 1932 when the games were held in Los Angeles, California. At that time, polo was at its zenith in the United States, having heralded in an age referred to as the “Golden Era” of polo. It could have easily been an opportunity for America to finally achieve a gold medal as a team. After the resumption of play in 1936 in Berlin, polo fell out of favor permanently, most likely due to the logistical and financial problems in transporting, stabling and feeding a large number of horses.
In its introduction year in 1900, most teams consisted of multiple nationalities and the finalist teams consisted of players from both Great Britain and America. British and French men competed on three different teams and the only medal not won by mixed teams was bronze which went to Mexico. The great 10-goal Hall of Famer Foxhall Keene (inducted into the Museum of Polo Hall of Fame in 1992) and a 4-goaler Frank Jay Mackey were the two American players who played with two Brits as the Foxhunters team to win the gold. Another American, Walter McCreery, helped the PLO Polo Club Rugby win the silver medal.
1924 Newspaper Article on America’s Olympic Polo team Captain Tommy Hitchcock Jr.
In 1908 and 1924, a round-robin system was used. In 1908 this was because the only three teams that entered were British resulting in them receiving three medals, a gold and two silver medals. In 1920, the American team was put together by the Army of the Occupation of the Rhine, due to the games being held that year in Antwerp, Germany, beating Belgium 11-3 to earn the bronze medal.
In 1924, both Argentina and America were considered the two best polo nations in the world. Not surprisingly, both teams ended up taking the two top spots in the round-robin, but it was Argentina who won gold with four wins to America’s three. This was Tommy Hitchcock Jr.’s first leadership role in a polo setting. He was appointed team captain and played some of the best polo in his life before being injured in the final game. Argentine player Juan Miles told him, “[m]y God, you should be ranked fifteen instead of ten, Tommy!” Hitchcock Jr. went on to be known as the greatest polo player of the golden age of polo and was inducted into the Polo Hall of Fame in 1990, its inaugural year. “Long Legs” Elmer Boeseke was yet another Hall of Famer (Inducted in 1999) who played on the team with Hitchcock in those fierce contests of 1924, along with the man who bankrolled the team, Rodman Wanamaker, and a handy 6-goaler, Fred Roe.
1924 Olympic Silver Medalist and America’s team captain, Tommy Hitchcock Jr.
The American Medalists: 1900, 1920, 1924
1900 (Gold medal)
The Foxhunters (Foxhall Keene, Frank Jay Mackey and two British players with an alternate)
1900 (Silver medal)
PLO Polo Club Rugby (Mixed team, Walter McCreery and three British)
1920 (Bronze medal)
American Army (Arthur Harris, Terry Allen, John Montgomery, Nelson Margetts)
1924 (Silver medal)
America (Elmer Boeseke, Tommy Hitchcock Jr., Frederick Roe, Rodman Wanamaker)
All photos courtesy of ©Museum of Polo and Hall of Fame