When millions of Americans tune in to watch the 2016 Olympics, they’ll witness a sport that hasn’t been contested at the Summer Games in nearly 100 years.
And Perry Baker will be there to introduce it to them.
Baker, 30, is a fleet-footed winger on the United States National Rugby Sevens Team, which will represent the stars and stripes against the world’s best rugby nations in Rio. A native of Daytona Beach, Florida, Baker was a game-changing factor in the USA Eagles’ upset of New Zealand in May, scoring four times en route to a 42–12 romp over the perennial powerhouse Kiwi squad.
“It’s great that rugby is making an appearance,” Baker says. “It’s helping the sport grow a lot—it’s one of the fastest growing sports in the United States.”
While rugby may take a back seat to football in the U.S. these days, the Americans have had Olympic success in the past. The U.S. brought home a gold medal at the last Olympic contest to feature the sport in 1924, although it was the traditional 15-man format and not the seven-player version that will be used in Brazil.
And with Baker on the squad, the U.S. may have a shot at the gold yet again.
Nicknamed “Speedstick,” the gazelle-limbed winger (roughly analogous to a wide receiver or running back) once turned in a 4.34 in the 40-yard-dash. He hasn’t always always been a rugger—the 6’1”, 180-pound lightning bolt played wide receiver for Fairmont State University and signed with the Philadelphia Eagles as an undrafted free agent in 2011—but after a knee injury ended his chance at an NFL career, he channeled his supreme footspeed toward the rugby pitch.
He fuels up like a top performer, too. “It’s day-in-and-day-out grind,” he says. “A lot of work and dedication, and a lot of sacrifice, goes into it. Eating right and eating healthy is a big part of my training.” His go-to post-workout meals: protein shakes, vegetables, and rice.
Baker has teamed up with top-tier athletes on Team USA—like Becky Sauerbrunn (women’s soccer), Amanda Bingson (hammer throw), Richard Browne (Paralympic Men’s T44 100-meter), and Melissa Stockwell (Paratriathlon)—as a member of Team Budweiser, too.
Now he’ll see if he can bring home some hardware.