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The First Winter Olympic Games
The XXII Olympic Winter Games (or 22nd Olympic Winter Games) are held in February 2014 in the Russian city of Sochi. However, 90 years ago, the very first Winter Olympics were held in the alpine region of Chamonix, France, in the shadow of the towering Mont Blanc.
Some 90 nations taking on more than 2,500 athletes will soon land in the Russian city, competing in numerous winter sporting disciplines, all followed a month later by the XI Paralympic Winter Games in the same venue. All of this is a far cry from the first Winter Games held in January 1924, when just 258 competitors from just 16 nations competed in 18 events.
Nations competing in Chamonix were France, Belgium, Austria, Estonia, Latvia, Finland, Great Britain, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland , Czechoslovakia, Canada and the United States. They competed in events such as bobsleigh, curling, ice hockey, speed skating, figure skating and Nordic skiing. It was not the first time that so-called winter sports had taken place during an Olympiad. Figure skating had been contested at the Summer Games in London (1908) and also in Antwerp (1920), and the Belgian city had also included ice hockey in its programme.
After a meeting of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in Lausanne in 1921, there was a call for winter sports to gain parity with their summer cousins which, after much discussion, became an “International Week des Sports d’Hiver”, organized in association with the Paris Summer Games, to be held in Chamonix.
The opening ceremonies took place on January 25 and a day later the action began with American Charlie Jewtraw achieving success in the 500 meter speed skating event. The games however were dominated by Finland and Norway winning 28 of the 43 medals available between them. Speed skater Clas Thunberg from Finland won 3 gold medals while Norway’s Thorleif Haug also bagged 3 gold medals for cross-country and Nordic skiing.
Host nation France failed to win any gold medals, ending up with just 3 bronze medals (the first time this had happened in the history of the modern Olympics), while the United States United and Great Britain won 4 medals each. Topping the medal table were Finland and Norway with 4 gold medals each, while Austria and Switzerland won 2.
It took until 1974 for the final medal to be awarded. Some 50 years after the athletes left, it was found that ski jumper and USA team captain Anders Haugen, who had been recorded as having finished 4th at the time of the event, should have been ranked 3rd. This emerged after a mathematical error in Thorleif Haug’s score was revealed, pushing the Norwegian-born American competitor up one spot.
The 1st Games are described as a global success, which leads the IOC to decide in 1925 to organize the Olympic Winter Games every 4 years, independently of their summer equivalent. At the same time, the Chamonix event was retrospectively declared the first Winter Olympic Games.
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