From Chamonix 1924 to Vancouver 2010 – 86 years and 21 editions of the Winter Games
On 25 January 1924, the first Olympic Winter Games got under way at the French resort of Chamonix, coiled at the foot of the imposing Mont Blanc, the highest summit of the Alps. For 12 days, 258 athletes tested their speed and mastery on snow and ice. From Chamonix 1924 to Vancouver 2010 – 86 years and 21 editions of the Winter Games. We look at the origins of Olympic events in the cold season.
Winter sports come of age
In June 1921, the International Olympic Committee (IOC), meeting in Lausanne for its 20th Session, awarded its patronage to a winter sports week that would take place in Chamonix in 1924. This event would subsequently be renamed the “first Olympic Winter Games”. It showed the IOC’s desire to respond to the boom in winter sports, which were getting organised into federations on an international level, such as skating with the International Skating Union (1892), or ice hockey with the International Ice Hockey League (1908). But before Chamonix, figure skating and ice hockey had already made an appearance at the Games, in London in 1908 for the first time, and in Antwerp in 1920 for the second.
From 1924 onwards (Chamonix and Paris) the Winter and Summer Games were held in the same year until 1992 (Albertville and Barcelona). Then, a two-year interval was introduced, but the Summer Games and Winter Games continue to be held every four years respectively.
A programme in tune with the latest trends
On the programme of the Chamonix Games were six sports with 16 events – military patrol (the precursor of biathlon), bobsleigh, curling, ice hockey, skating and skiing, compared to seven sports – with the addition of luge - and 86 events in Vancouver. This increase echoes the development of winter sports, and can be explained by the arrival of new disciplines, such as Alpine skiing in Garmisch-Partenkirchen in 1936, or, more recently, the inclusion of ski cross in Vancouver.
From their first edition in Chamonix in 1924 up to their 21st edition in Vancouver in 2010, the Winter Games have become universal. While delegations from 16 European countries and North America were present at the celebration in Chamonix, representatives of more than 80 National Olympic Committees are expected in the British Columbian city. Asia made its first appearance at the Olympic winter celebrations in 1928 in St Moritz; Oceania in 1936 in Garmisch-Partenkirchen; and Africa in 1960 in Squaw Valley.
The first Olympic winter champions
The sports equipment and techniques of the athletes present in Chamonix are now antiques, but their feats remain well and truly part of the history of the Games. Thus, the first male and female Olympic champions were both skaters: American Charles Jewtraw and Austrian Herma Szabo-Plank. Different times, different performances: five-time medal winner in Chamonix, Finland’s Clas Thunberg won the 1,500m speed skating outdoors in 2:20.80. In Turin, in the Lingotto Oval and on “clap skates”, the winner of the same event, Italy’s Enrico Fabris, came first in 1:45.97, a time to beat in Vancouver.
See more images and videos from Olympic Winter Games of the past in our Olympic Games section and in our Media Player.