Yuzuru Hanyu from Japan wrote his name into the record books on Saturday 17 February, when he won the men’s figure skating title at PyeongChang 2018 to become the 1,000th medal event winner in the history of the Olympic Winter Games.
The landmark comes a little over 94 years after the very first Olympic Winter Games gold medal was awarded, to the USA’s Charles Jewtraw, who, on 26 January 1924, crossed the line first in the 500m speed skating event in Chamonix in France.
Jewtraw had to wait a little while before becoming an official Olympic gold medallist, however. That 1924 gathering in France was known at the time as the “Winter Sports Week” and it was not until two years later that it was retrospectively designated the “I Olympic Winter Games”.
The obverse of Jewtraw’s medal featured a winter sports athlete with arms outstretched and holding a pair of skates in his right hand and a pair of skis in his left, with Mont Blanc providing a dramatic backdrop. Unlike the medals created for subsequent Winter Games, there are no Olympic rings present on either side, a reflection of the unofficial status of Chamonix 1924 at the time.
From small beginnings
The US skater was one of only 16 athletes to receive such a medal at Chamonix 1924, when only 16 nations took part; all a far cry from PyeongChang 2018, where athletes from a record number of NOCs (92) are competing in a record total of 102 medal events.
The USA are one of only 36 nations to have produced an Olympic Winter Games gold medallist, with Norway leading the way with 124 as of Friday 16 February 2018. Behind the Norwegians lie the USA, the only other nation with more than one hundred of Winter Games golds, a landmark it reached on Wednesday 14 February, when Shaun White won the PyeongChang 2018 men’s snowboard halfpipe title, followed by Mikaela Shiffrin’s giant slalom gold one day later.
Like the Olympic Winter Games themselves, the gold medals have changed much since Jewtraw wrote his name in Olympic history. Made of gilt silver and measuring 55mm across, the Chamonix 1924 gold is a good deal smaller than its PyeongChang 2018 counterpart, which is 92.5mm in diameter. Made from silver with a purity of 99.9 percent, it is also plated with six grams of gold.
The dynamic diagonal lines on both sides of the medals designed for PyeongChang 2018 symbolise the history of the Olympic Games, of which Hanyu is now an integral and lasting part.
Spare a thought, however, for Ester Ledecka, the winner of the 999th Olympic Winter Games gold medal, in the women’s Alpine skiing super-G, who just missed out on becoming a very special millennial.