With the countdown towards the start of this year’s Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia less than two weeks away, I thought this topic was apt. On this day in 1924, the first Winter Olympics were held in Chamonix, France (in the French Alps). Originally known as the “International Winter Sports Week”, or en français, La Semaine Internationale des Sports d’Hiver, these Olympic Games lasted from January 25th to February 4th, with 16 nations participating and 258 athletes competing in total.
The Winter Olympics had many antecedents. In 1901, five years after the birth of the modern Olympics at Athens, Sweden held the first organized international competition in winter sports. Called the Nordic Games, this competition was exclusive to Scandinavian nations. Interestingly, the first time that winter sports were staged at the Olympics were in 1908 (London, UK) for figure skating, and 1920 (Antwerp, Belgium) for men’s ice hockey. As a separate Winter Olympics event did not exist at the time, both the figure skating and ice hockey events were held months after the Summer Olympics were held.
In 1924, the French Olympic Committee decided to host a Winter Olympics in the foothills of the French Alps, in conjunction with the Summer Olympics that were to be held later in the year in Paris. On January 25th, 1924, the first Winter Olympic games were held, with the following six sports being played: bobsleigh, curling, ice hockey, military patrol (known today as the biathlon), skating (both figure skating and speed skating), and Nordic skiing (cross-country skiing, Nordic combined, and ski jumping). The sixteen nations participating were: Austria, Belgium, Canada, Czechoslovakia, Finland, France, Great Britain, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Norway, Poland, Switzerland, Sweden, the United States, and Yugoslavia.
Here are some interesting facts about the First Winter Olympic Games:
- Norway won the most medals at the games, with 4 gold, 7 silver, and 6 bronze for a total of 17 medals. Finland won the second most medals, with 4 gold, 4 silver, and 3 bronze (total of 11).
- These Olympic Games in the winter of 1924 marked the first time that the host country failed to win any gold medals. At Chamonix, France won 3 bronze medals, and no gold. Since Chamonix, this feat has only occurred four other times, at St. Moritz, Switzerland (Summer, 1928), Montreal, Canada (Summer, 1976), Calgary, Canada (Winter, 1988), and Sarajevo, Yugoslavia (Winter, 1984).
- Oddly enough, in 1974 the last medal of the 1924 Winter Olympics was handed out. Anders Haugen of the United States was awarded the bronze medal in a ski jumping event, after Olympic officials had discovered that a scoring error had occurred, placing Haugen incorrectly in fourth place. By the time Haugen received his bronze medal in 1974, he was 86 years old. I hope by that age he was not ski jumping any longer…
- From 1924 to 1992, Winter and Summer Olympics were held on the same year, every four years. A decision in 1986 however by the International Olympic Committee placed the Summer and Winter Games on separate four-year cycles in alternating even-numbered years. Consequently, the next Winter Olympics after 1992 (Albertville, France) were held in 1994, at Lillehammer, Norway.
- Canada won its first Winter Olympics gold medal in men’s ice hockey, uniquely defending their title from the previous Summer Olympics. Women’s ice hockey would not be added to the Olympic until 1998, at Nagano, Japan. Here’s to another ice hockey gold medal (in both men’s and women’s mind you) this year at Sochi, 90 years after Chamonix! 🙂