The First Winter Olympics
Chamonix is a village of around 10,000 inhabitants that nestles at the foot of Mont Blanc in France. Known for having some of the best ski runs in the world, it is also one of the oldest known winter sports resorts. Proficient Skiers, snowboarders, extreme sports enthusiasts and mountaineers, flock to this small resort from all over the world, to sample its unique and sometimes extreme challenges.
With its challenging ski runs it is no surprise that Chamonix was nominated by the Olympic Committee in1921 to hold the first winter games in 1924.
These first games were not to be known as the Winter Olympics however. They were initially called "The International Winter Sports Week" an odd title for an event that didn't last a week, but actually went on for eleven days.
The name was adopted as a way to get the Scandinavian nations to compete. Since 1901 Norway, Sweden and Finland had held their own very successful Nordic Games. The Organizers of the event in Chamonix had to do a lot of persuading to attract the Scandinavian countries, but eventually succeeded in enticing them to compete. During the "Sports Week
Officials decided to set up an organisation to look after the interests of skiing. The Federation Internationale de Ski (FIS) was formed, and it was this organisation that a year later retrospectively gave the title of The Winter Olympics to the event.
The skating events were held in a spectacular setting in a rink situated in the shadow of the towering 15,000 feet Mont Blanc. A bobsled run made from snow ran from midway up the mountain down into the town. The skiing took place on some of the most beautiful and spectacular slopes, that still provide thrills and challenges to skiers today.
A total of sixteen nations competed in these first games, with 285 athletes taking part in the sixteen events. Out of all the participating athletes only 11 of them were women. The following events took place:
- 4 Man Bobsled
- Figure Skating Men
- Figure Skating Women
- Figure Skating Pairs
- Cross Country Skiing(15km and 50km)
- Ice Hockey
- Nordic Combined Skiing
- Speed Skating (500m, 1500m, 5000m, 10,000m, combined)
The Scandinavian countries dominated the games. Finland and Norway won 28 medals between them. Their medal wins included all of the Nordic skiing events and four out of the five speed skating events.
The final tally of medals was:
- Norway 17
- Finland 11
- Great Britain 4
- USA 4
- Austria 3
- Switzerland 3
- France 3
- Sweden 2
- Canada 1
The games included many fine individual and team performances. Although Canada were only to win one medal, they could hardly have done so in a more emphatic style. The Canadian Ice Hockey team, who were a dominant force in the sport at the time, won gold in spectacular fashion. They won all five of their matches scoring 110 goals and only conceding 3 in the process.
In their opening game the Canadians thrashed Switzerland by the incredible score line of 33-0. They then went on to score 30 goals without reply against the Czechoslovakian team. This was followed by a 22-0 victory over Sweden, before they humbled the Great Britain team 19-2. In the final they met the team from the USA. Despite this game being the closest game of the tournament for the Canadians, they still ran out as gold medal winners with a comprehensive 6-1 victory.
The distinction of the first person to win Gold at a "Winter Olympics" went to American Charles Jewtraw who was a surprise winner of the first event the 500m speed skating. The combined Nordic ski event is a prestigious event to win, as it is a competition to decide the best all-rounder. The competitors in the combined have two ski jumps from a 90m hill, and then the next day follow up with a 15km cross-country race. The winner is the person who has the highest combined score.
Thorleif Haug of Norway was dominant in the event winning the combined and both cross-country events. Speed skater Clas Thunberg also won three gold medals at the games, while Norwegian speed skater Roald Larsen collected a total of five medals two silver, and three bronze.
The games also provided a couple of rather interesting stories. American ski jumper Anders Haugen who initially finished fourth in his event, was promoted to third. This may not seem to be much of a story, but he was only promoted to third in 1974. Errors in the calculations of the scoring of the original event were discovered, and Haugen eventually received his Bronze medal at the age of 83.