The International Winter Sports Week: A Look at the First Winter Olympic Games, 1924

Winter Sports in the Olympics before 1924

When the Olympics were reborn in the late 19th Century, it was built as an international competition, including countries from around the world. Unlike the original ancient Olympics that were a purely Greek phenomenon, the modern Olympics would include countries that had very different backgrounds, including those whose most popular sports were winter sports.

From the beginning discussions of including some winter sports took place. The most commonly discussed sport was figure skating, which was actually introduced into the Olympics in 1908. In 1920 ice hockey was added to the roster.

As early as 1911 talk of hosting a separate week for winter sports had begun. Italian count Eugenio Brunetta d’Usseaux first proposed this to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for the 1912 Olympics held in Stockholm, Sweden. Unfortunately for d’Usseaux, the organizers wished to instead back the Nordic Games, featuring competitors from Nordic countries in winter sports. These games were also held in Stockholm and the Swedish organizers did not want to cut into this event with a separate Olympic week.

For the 1916 Olympics a winter sports week was again planned and agreed to, a week that would include such sports as speed skating, figure skating and ice hockey. The 1916 Olympics were cancelled with the outbreak of World War I and so this never occurred. Although ice hockey was included for the 1920 Olympic Games, winter sports were not given their own special designation.

The International Winter Sports Week, 1924

Finally in 1921 it was decided that the organizers of the 1924 Olympics, which would take place in Paris, France, would also organize a separate event that would showcase winter sports. This would come to be known as the International Sports Week, although it actually lasted 11 days.

Chamonix, France, a small town buried in the French Alps about 60 miles northeast of Grenoble, was chosen to be the site of these games. Opening ceremonies were held on the 25th of January, although there was no lighting of the Olympic Flame. No Olympic Flame would be lit at the Winter Olympic Games until 1952 in Oslo, Norway.

Events at the International Winter Sports Week were: 4-man bobsled, biathlon, curling, figure skating, hockey, cross-country skiing, ski jumping, Nordic combined skiing and speed skating. A total 258 athletes hailing from 16 nations came to compete:

The first gold medal of the games was awarded to Charlie Jewtraw, an American, for the 500m speed skating event. It was a surprising upset against the Nordic teams (such as Finland and Norway) who were the favorites in the games. The upset would not last, though, the United States would win only 3 more medals during the Week, while Norway and Finland dominated throughout taking between them 28 of 43 medals.

One interesting story did arise from the awarding of medals during the games, however. Anders Haugen of the USA had to wait 50 years for his bronze medal in the ski jump. Originally the medal was awarded to the Norwegian Norleif Haug. Many years after the fact it was found that there was an error in the marking of points and Haugen was the actual third place winner. In 1974 he was awarded his bronze medal, at the age of 83.

The Birth of the Winter Olympics

The International Winter Sports Week in 1924 proved to be immensely popular. The following year the International Olympic Committee created the Winter Olympic Games, completely separate from the Summer Olympics. The 1924 games were retroactively named as the very first ever Winter Olympic Games. The Winter Olympics have remained a popular and separate event to this day. The 2006 Winter Olympics will be held in Turin, Italy.

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