Figure skating and ice hockey make their Olympic debut… at the Summer Games!
Before the Olympic Winter Games were first held, figure skating and ice hockey were already on the schedule, at the Summer Games. Ulrich Salchow and Gillis Graftsröm were amongst the first to win figure skating gold, while Canada kicked off an impressive run of ice hockey success with victory in Antwerp in 1920.
The founder of the modern Olympic Games, Pierre de Coubertin, was a passionate winter sports advocate who recommended adding figure skating to the schedule at the very first Olympic Congress in 1894. He believed the sport was "amateur in nature and possessed a sporting dignity so frank and pure that its exclusion from the Olympic programme robs it of strength and value".
While De Coubertin pushed for a winter version of the Olympics to be created, the two sports of figure skating and ice hockey were added to the summer programme.
IOC / Edgar and Florence SYERS (GBR)
Inaugural honours for Salchow and Syers
Figure skating made its Olympic debut at the 1908 Olympic Games in London, with competitions taking place at the Prince's Skating Club in Knightsbridge. In the men's competition, top honours went to Sweden's Ulrich Salchow, a name that will be familiar to fans of the sport. The "Salchow", which he first performed at the 1909 World Championships in Budapest (HUN), is one of the six official jumps recognised by the International Skating Union (ISU).
The Swede was a technically excellent skater as well as a master of compulsory figures, which at the time were an important element in the judging, and became the first Olympic champion in his sport thanks to a free programme full of precision and power. His compatriots Richard Johansson and Per Thoren joined him on the podium, making it a Swedish sweep.
In the women's competition, British figure skater Madge Syers was first to be crowned Olympic champion. The pioneering skater entered the 1902 World Championships after noting that there was nothing in the rules to prevent women from taking part.
Syers placed second there and skated so well that Salchow, who won the competition, said she should have come first. Syers claimed victory with ease in London, however, producing a far superior programme to the rest of the field and claiming victory with ease.IOC / Anna HUBLER and Heinrich BURGER (GER)
Pairs skating was also on the programme, with the judges unanimously awarding gold to Anna Hübler and Heinrich Burger of Germany for their superb performance. Meanwhile, in the special figures – an event no longer on the programme – Nikolai Panin of Russia won gold.
Olympic success for Grafström
Figure skating was not included on the Olympic programme in 1912 but returned in Antwerp in 1920, where it was joined for the first time by ice hockey. The 1920 Olympics took place from 20 August to 2 September, but due to the impossibility of creating an ice rink in the middle of summer, the two winter sports were instead contested in April, at the city's Palais de Glace.
In the men's figure skating competition, Salchow passed on his crown to fellow Swede Gillis Grafström, who dominated the competition despite breaking a skate and being forced to compete in a pair too small for him. He finished in front of two Norwegians, Andreas Krogh and Martin Stixrud, with the great Salchow fourth.
The last winter sports champion to be crowned at a Summer Games, Grafström became men's figure skating's first Winter Games gold medallist in Chamonix in 1924, and then completed a golden hat-trick with another victory in St Moritz in 1928. He added silver to his collection in 1932 and remains the most decorated Olympic figure skater of all time.
IOC / Magda JULIN-MAUROY (SWE)
The women's competition in Antwerp was won by Magda Julin of Sweden, who was pregnant at the time. In the pairs, Finnish husband and wife team Ludowika and Walter Jakobsson won gold.
In the ice hockey Canada was represented, as it would be until 1956, by the winners of the Allan Cup, the national amateur championships. On this occasion the team in question was Winnipeg Falcons.
Antwerp 1920 was also as the first International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) World Championships, with seven teams and 60 players from Canada, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, France, Sweden, Switzerland and the USA taking part.
The Falcons defeated Czechoslovakia 15-0 in the quarter-finals, the USA 2-0 in the semi-finals and finished up with a resounding 12-1 victory over Sweden in the final. It was the first of nine Olympic ice hockey titles won by Canada through to 2014, and the first of four successive golds. The silver medal match was won by the Americans, who defeated Czechoslovakia 16-0.
The first Olympic Winter Games
Pierre de Coubertin's efforts finally paid off at the 7th IOC Congress in Lausanne on 5 June 1921. Despite resistance from the Scandinavians, who wanted to protect the status of their Nordic Games as the premier winter sports event, it was agreed to organise an International Winter Sports Week in association with the 1924 Paris Olympics.
The event took place in Chamonix in February 1924 and was generally considered to be a great success. At the following year's Congress in Prague, the Olympic Winter Games were officially created and the event in Chamonix was retrospectively designated the I Olympic Winter Games.