January 25 1924 – The first Winter Olympic Games opens in Chamonix, France

January 25 1924 – The first Winter Olympic Games opens in Chamonix, France
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On January 25, 1924, the First Winter Olympic Games was opened in Chamonix, France. Although not known as an Olympics Games at the time, it became the first in many winter sporting events to be held by the International Olympics Committee.

The proposal for a winter sports week or a winter sporting event similar to the Summer Olympic Games had been around for quite some time. In 1921, the International Olympic Committee acceded to the demand and extended its patronage to a weeklong sporting event to be held in Chamonix, France. This event, the Semaine Internationale des Sports d’Hiver (International Winter Sports Week) held in Chamonix a town in Haute-Savoie, at the foothill of Mont Blanc, turned out to be a great success. 10,004 spectators paid to witness the events and the events attracted 258 participants (11 women and 247 men) from 16 nations of the world. In retrospect, the event was named the First Olympic Winter Games and a tradition of Winter Olympic events was thus established.

The opening and closing ceremonies of the 1924 Winter Olympics were held at the Stade Olympique de Chamonix – the venue of the Summer Olympic Games held that year. The Winter Olympic Games were held between January 25 and February 5, 1924. The event was officially opened by Gaston Vidal, the French politician, who was also the Chairman of the French National Sports Committee at the time and had played an active role in the organization of the Olympics events in France that year. At the close of the events, Charles Granville Bruce was awarded a prize by Pierre de Coubertin for leading an expeditionary team attempting to climb Mt. Everest in 1922.

The First Winter Olympic Games showcased 7 sports and 16 events. While sources from 1924 do not list curling and military patrol as demonstration events, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) declared in February 2006 that these were part of the Olympic program and hence the medals awarded would be included in the official count. The sports showcased in the Chamonix Olympic Games were – Bobsleigh, Curling, Figure skating, Ice hockey, Military patrol, Nordic skiing (Cross-country skiing, Nordic combined, Ski jumping), and Speed skating. The official medal count for the events was as follows –

Final Medal Tally (1924 Winter Olympics)

Rank Nation Gold Silver Bronze Total
1 Norway 4 7 6 17
2 Finland 4 4 3 11
3 Austria 2 1 0 3
4 Switzerland 2 0 1 3
5 United States 1 2 1 4
6 Great Britain 1 1 2 4
7 Sweden 1 1 0 2
8 Canada 1 0 0 1
9 France 0 0 3 3
10 Belgium 0 0 1 1

Some very memorable events marked the First Winter Olympic Games.

  • American Charles Jewtraw became the first athlete to secure a gold medal at the Winter Games. He won this for the 500m speed skating event.

  • The outstanding individual performer at the games was Finland’s Clas Thunberg. Thunberg secured five medals three of which were gold, one silver, and one bronze.

  • American skier Anders Haugen was deprived of his bronze medal because of a marking error. When the error was discovered in 1974, Haugen was eventually awarded at the age of 83.

  • The Canadian ice hockey team scored 85 times without conceding a goal in the first three matches played by the team. Canada went on to win the tournament with a total tally of 122 goals and only three goals were scored against them.

With the success of the 1924 Winter Olympic Games, the IOC decided to hold the Winter Olympic Events independent of the Summer Games. They were held every four years from 1924 until 1936 when they were interrupted due to the outbreak of World War II. Again in 1948, the Winter Olympic Games resumed and till 1992 were held in the same year as the Summer Games. The IOC, however, decided in 1986 to hold the Winter Games in a different cycle and after 1992, the Winter Olympic Games were held again in 1994.

The Winter Olympic Games are now a major sporting event held every four years in even numbered years alternating with the Summer Olympic Games. Ten countries including the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Canada, and Belgium have attended all the Winter Olympic Games. The Winter Olympic Games have been hosted four times in the United States, three times in France, twice each in Austria, Canada, Japan, Italy, Norway, and Switzerland and once in Germany and Yugoslavia. Sochi in Russia has been selected to host the 2014 Winter Olympic Games (22nd Winter Olympic Games) and Pyeongchang in South Korea will host the event in 2018. The United States has earned gold medals at each of the Winter Olympic Games held till date. The Winter Olympics currently has about 15 sports and showcasing 90 events on snow or ice.

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