Friday 13 September 2013

I Olympic Winter Games: Chamonix 1924

In the run up to London 2012 I did a series looking back at all the previous Olympics posting it at 5pm every Friday, I've decided to do the same in the run up to Sochi 2014 with the Winter Olympic Games. You can catch up on any you missed in the Olympiads Revisited tab.

The 1924 Summer Olympics were to he held in Paris, France. In the 1908 and 1920 Summer Games Figure skating had featured and in the 1920 Ice Hockey had also taken part. In 1921 the decision was made to have Semaine Internationale des Sports d'Hiver (International Winter Sports Week) at Chamonix as part of the Paris Games.

Although the idea of a Winter Sports Week associated with the Olympics was not a new one. It has first been put forward for 1912 as part of the Stockholm Games, but was turned down by the hosts as there already was the multi-event Nordic Games first held in Sweden in 1901, which would continue to run until 1926 with only one of the eight held outside Sweden; Norway 1903. There was meant to be a Winter Sports Week in 1916 when speed skating, figure skating, ice hockey and nordic skiing would have taken place at a German winter sports venue, but the war intervened.

Nations 16
Competitors 258
Sports 9
Events 16

25 January to 5 February, 1924 hosted in Chamonix, France

The original nations to take part in what were to become the Winter Olympics were:

  • Austria
  • Belgium
  • Canada
  • Czechoslovakia
  • Finland
  • France
  • Great Britain
  • Hungary
  • Italy
  • Latvia
  • Norway
  • Poland
  • Switzerland
  • Sweden
  • United States
  • Yugoslavia
The nine sports that were represented being bobsleigh, curling, figure skating, ice hockey, military patrol (aka biathlon), nordic skiing and speed skating. Perhaps surprisingly to us today the Alpine Skiing wasn't to feature until 1936.

First gold...

Winner of the First Winter Olympic Gold Medal
On the second day of the Games the first gold medal was awarded in the 500m speed skating.

The winner of that first gold was a native of Lake Placid a two time Winter Olympic host and the only non-Nordic medalist in the speed skating. His name was Charles Jewtraw.

However, the other medals in speed skating went to Norway or Finland. But it was the Finns that took the other 4 gold medals and one Finn took home a medal in all 5 events.

Clas Thunberg from Helsinki had come tied in third in the 500m, but took gold in the 1500m and 5000m and silver in the 10,000m. As a result of his performances in the four events he was awarded the all-round gold medal as well based on his finishing positions. He took a further two golds in the 1928 Games at 500m and 1500m.

First female Winter Olympic Gold medallist
Unlike the Summer Olympics where women first competed in 1900 (and then only in golf, tennis and croquet) the Winter Olympics had female participation from the off, although only in the figure skating. 

The first female gold medalist at the Winter Olympics was therefore in the ladies individual.  The only competitor in Chamonix who had Olympic experience was Theresa Blachard (née Weld)  from the USA who had won the bronze medal in Antwerp. However, she was to finish just out of the medals in 4th (something she had done with partner Nathaniel Niles in the pairs 4 years previously). 

The winner was Austrian skater Herma Szabo, with the first female silver and bronze medalists being Beatrix Loughran (USA) and Ethel Muckelt (GB).

However, the 11-year-old skater who came 8th and last is the one that most people remember. Her name was Sonje Henie and the Norwegian would go on to win gold at the next three Olympics.

The defending Summer Olympic Champions

There were two champions in winter sports defending their titles at these first Winter Olympics. The first to complete their competition was Gillis Grafström of Sweden in the men's figure skating. On the sixth day of the Games he entered the history books as the first champion to retain his title in the Winter Olympics.

The other champions from the 1920 Summer Games were Canada in the Ice Hockey. They soared through their group scoring 85 goals in the three games against Czechoslovakia (30), Sweden (22) and Switzerland (33) without conceding one. In the final round robin round they dropped 2 against Great Britain, but scored 19 and another against USA but scored 6, in the tightest game they faced in their defense against the only team that looked to be on a par with them.

The First Olympic Bobsleigh

Nine sleds from 5 nations took part in the inaugural Olympic bobsleigh. Two each from France, Great Britain, Italy and Switzerland with a single sled from Belgium. 

The equipment was very different from what we will see now; an open sled, the team wearing woolen jumpers and leather hats for protection. Even the run was different with snow laid up to form bends without the concrete structures and freezing pipes we know today. There was also a rolling start rather than the run.

In the end the gold was won by the Swiss team of Alfred Neveu, Eduard Scherrer, Alfred and Heinrich Schläppi, Grat Britain came second and Belgium third. The Schläppi brothers would be the co-Presidents of the first post war Winter Olympics in 1948 at St. Moritz.

Military Patrol aka Biathlon

Like the Modern Pentathlon in the Summer Games there was an event that started out purely as a military competition. Although in this case it wasn't to be the official Olympic event of Biathlon until 1960.

Six nations had sent teams of 4 to compete in the event which combined cross country skiing and shooting, Czechoslovakia, France, Finland, Italy, Poland and Switzerland. Each team consisted of one officer, one NCO and two privates, the officer would carry a pistol and not take part in the shooting, the NCO and privates would also carry backpacks with a combined weight of 24kg. The course would include between 500m and 1200m of climbing, therefore trying to replicate the conditions of a patrol out in the snow.

There was bad conditions on the course on 29 January when the event took place and the teams from Italy and Poland failed to complete the course. But the first winners were Switzerland Dennis Vaucher, Alfred Aufdenblatten and brothers Antoine and Alphonse Julen.

The fifty year long error

The Ski jumping in the first Olympics was dominated by the Nordic nations, indeed initially it was announced that Norway had won all three of the medals. 

The event took place at Le Mont and the K point of the hill at that time was at 71m. The winner was Jacob Tullin Thams, who would later win a silver medal in the 8m class for sailing at the 1936 Summer Olympics. In second was this compatriot Narve Bonna and the initial third place went to another Norwegian Thorlief Haug. 

However, in 1974 and error in the calculations in those Games realised that the bronze should have been award to the USA's jumper Anders Haugen; although as he was born in Telemark*, Norway really another Norwegian. The error had been spotted by a Norwegian sports historian Jacob Vaage at the 50th anniversary reunion of the Norwegian team. Therefore on 12 September 1974 an 86 year old Haugen was presented with that Bronze medal by Anna Maria Magnusson, Thorleif Haug's youngest daughter.

Haug who had died in 1934 probably wouldn't have been too upset, he had three gold medals from those Games in 18km and 50km Cross Country and the Nordic Combined.

In total the top five jumpers in the first ski jump contest had all been born in Norway.

Great Britain's best Winter Olympics

The GB Curling team on their way to gold
The 1924 Games are still Great Britain's best ever in the Winter Olympics. Bronzes were secured by Ethel Muckelt in the women's figure skating and the Men's Ice Hockey (there was no women's until 1998). The British four-man bob of Ralph Broome, Thomas Arnold, Alexander Richardson and Rodney Soher took silver. But it was in Curling that GB won their first winter Olympic gold medal.

The curling team father and son William and Laurence Jackson, Thomas Murray and Robin Welsh won the gold medal match. All four were members of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club and Welsh in 1895-6 had played four times for Scotland in Rugby Union. It was skipped by William Jackson in the final, but there were four other members of the team John Robertson-Aikman, John McLeod, William Brown and Major D.G. Astley. The last of these Major Astley played for Sweden in their silver medal play off match against France those winning a gold and silver medal in the same event. However, until 2006 the 1924 Curling event was deemed by the IOC to be only a demonstration event.

But No gold for the hosts

Since the first Summer Olympics in 1896 every host nation had taken first place, and since 1904  gold, in at least one event. However in Chamonix the French failed to follow suit. They came away with only three medals all of them bronze in the curling, pairs figure skating and military patrol. Though it could have been worse as the Curling medals were only awarded in 2006 after the event was recognised as an official part of the programme.

* Telemark is the region of Norway that gives it name to characteristic Telemark landing with one foot in front of the other that all ski-jumpers must land to receive maximum style points.

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