At the time of the Winter Games in Chamonix, curling was a completely unknown sport in France. The 1924 Olympic curling tournament, which took place on 28-30 January, featured just three rinks, from Great Britain, Sweden and France. The host country’s severely inexperienced team had been swiftly cobbled together shortly before the Games and so they were not expected to feature in the battle for gold.
Indeed, of the matches played on the curling sheet installed at the centre of the Olympic ice rink, the only one that could be viewed as decisive was Great Britain-Sweden. Ably led by skip Johan Petter Åhlén, the Scandinavians held on well at the beginning, but fell away to eventually lose 38-7. They made do with a silver medal, secured by beating France 18-10.
The British team, skipped by William K. Jackson, claimed the last Olympic gold medal on offer in curling until the sport’s return to the Games at Nagano 1998. However Åhlén, a veritable curling pioneer in Sweden, was justified in feeling a sense of triumph as he stepped up to receive his runners-up medal.
The son of a farmer, who went on to become a successful and wealthy entrepreneur, he abandoned the name he inherited from his parents (Andersson), which he judged to be too common, in favour of Åhlén, which was inspired by Åhl, the Swedish town where he was born in 1879. Some 20 years later, he founded a mail-order business which met with almost instant success. He subsequently launched a chain of department stores, which still trades under his adopted name to this day.
In parallel with his business interests, Åhlén put a huge amount of energy and resources into promoting the sport of curling in Sweden, and was instrumental in the formation of the Swedish Curling Association, of which he fulfilled the role of vice-president in the 1930s. In addition, he held several important administrative positions within the curling world, implementing the infrastructure that would secure the sport a permanent place in Sweden’s sporting landscape.
Aside from his Olympic feats, the astute Swede played on three national championship-winning teams. He died while crossing the Atlantic Ocean on a ship bound for New York, on 31 March 1939.