The first-ever Winter Champion
As the winner of the 500m speed skating competition on the morning of Saturday 26 January, Charles Jewtraw (USA) had the honour of becoming the first gold medallist of the Olympic Winter Games. Jewtraw was a native of Lake Placid, the American village renowned for its frozen lakes, which would itself host two Winter Games, in 1932 and 1980.
Born in 1900, Jewtraw has already made his name in his homeland, triumphing at the US National Championships in 1921 and 1923 and setting an American record of 9.4 seconds over 100 yards. However, in Chamonix, versus several highly fancied Scandinavian skaters, he was not viewed as one of the favourites. Finland’s Clas Thunberg, who had been training in Davos prior to arriving in France, and who would establish a 500m world record of 42.80 in the Swiss town five years later, was strongly fancied, but this was not to be his day.
In an event where competitors raced against the clock in randomly drawn pairs, 27 skaters competed in 13 rounds featuring two participants, and one with just one. Jewtraw, who had been paired with Charlie Gorman (CAN), got off to a furious start, covering the opening 100m in 10.50 seconds and drawing gasps from the spectators present. Following one 400m lap of the rink plus a final 100m sprint, he posted a time of 44.00 that would prove strong enough to claim the Olympic crown. Norway’s Oskar Olsen (44.20) took silver, while his compatriot Roald Larsen shared the bronze with Thunberg (both 44.80).
Jewtraw competed in two further events in Chamonix – finishing eighth in the 1,500m and 13th in the 5,000m – before hanging up his skates and becoming a representative for a major sporting goods company in New York (USA). His success was an inspiration to many, including a young skater from Lake Placid, Jack Shea, who won two gold medals – in the 500m and 1,500m – at the 1932 Games.