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01 Feb 2010
Olympic News, St. Moritz 1948
Olympic News

Relive the Glories of past Olympic Winter Games: St.Moritz 1948

1948 St. Moritz
V Olympic Winter Games

Opening date: 30 January 1948
Closing date: 8 February 1948
Country of the host city: Switzerland (SUI)
Candidate cities: Lake Placid (USA)
Nations: 28
Events: 22

Despite being in its infancy pre-WWII there was never any doubt that, when the fighting ended and peace was restored, the celebration of the Olympic Winter Games would continue from where it had left off.

In 1948, the Olympic Winter Games were resurrected following a 12-year gap. At short notice St. Moritz took up the torch and hosted the world for a second time. Although athletes from some countries were absent, the first time appearances of others – from Korea, Denmark, Iceland, Chile and Lebanon who had accepted the invitation of the Organizing Committee and the Swiss Olympic Committee – meant that more athletes than ever before arrived in St. Moritz to compete.

It was a promising start for the IOC and Organizing Committee’s effort to pick up the celebrations from where they had been abandoned due to WWII. Unlike the Summer Games though, the IOC decided that the 1940 and 1944 Winter Games that had gone uncelebrated would also go unnumbered. Thus, it was the Vth rather than the VIIth edition that was held in St. Moritz as part of the cycle of the XIV Olympiad.

For ten brief days in late January and early February the Olympic festivities and sporting events in the Swiss resort provided spectators with respite from focusing on the strains of post-War recovery. They could simply enjoy the feats of sporting legends, the drama and spills of the return of skeleton, exemplary displays of sportsmanship and even the throwing of a snowball or two.

Those attending the Games needed only to consult their Olympic programme brochure to find a sport competition or demonstration that was sure to both enthrall and distract them. 

As in 1928, a small variety of unique sporting demonstrations were again included alongside the official competitions in St. Moritz. This time it was the modern pentathlon, partially redesigned for winter with alpine and cross country skiing replacing swimming and running, which seemed to offer the most intriguing spectacle. The idea did not catch on though and 1948 was the first and only time that a winter pentathlon was included in the Olympic festivities.

In the official sports competition Alpine skiing offered a broader range of thrills as the number of events was expanded to include three each for men and women. A trip to the slopes proved worthwhile for spectators who were treated to displays of both reckless abandon and controlled skill from athletes such as Edi Reinalter of Switzerland in the men’s slalom and Gretchen Fraser of the United States in the women’s slalom and combined events.

At the hockey rink it was sportsmanship not skill that was demonstrated by players on the Italian team who seemed more intent on apologizing for body checking an opponent then on keeping their focus on the puck. In contrast, some of the spectators in the stands would be remembered for throwing snowballs at the officials when they did not agree with the officials’ rulings.

For those wishing to avoid becoming the unexpected target of an errant snowball there was instead the unexpected opportunity to watch a legend in action. Thirty-six-year-old Birger Ruud decided to enter the ski jumping competition only at the last minute. Already a double Olympic champion, Ruud’s decision earned him a final Olympic medal, this time a silver.

The return of the Games to St. Moritz would, of course, not have been complete without the return of the skeleton. Its inclusion, for a second time on the Olympic programme brought the return of American John Heaton who again won the silver medal in the competition, this time behind Nino Bibbia of Italy.

With so many notable performances the V Olympic Winter Games admirably lived up to the fittingly sunny emblem the Organizers used on pins, programmes, and promotional materials. True to the chosen emblem, the sun had indeed come out in St. Moritz. Darker days were temporarily forgotten by spectators and athletes alike and the Winter Games proved their resilience.

Athlete Biographies 
Trude Beiser (Austria)

Austrian alpine skier Trude Beiser had two reasons to be thankful when she crossed the finish line in the women’s Olympic downhill event. The first was the silver medal that her performance earned her. The second came thanks to the generosity of the American skiers who lent the Austrian alpine team, still recovering from the impact of WWII, the equipment that made it possible for them to compete at the Games.

Still in St. Moritz, and still on borrowed skis, Beiser took part in the alpine combined event. This time she won her first Olympic gold.

By the time the 1952 Olympic Winter Games took place Trude had married. Thus it was that her final Olympic medal, this time a gold in the downhill, would be entered in the results book under the name Beiser-Jochum.

Henri Oreiller (France)

Born on 5 December 1925 Frenchman Henri Oreiller lived his life doing what he loved best, pursuing his passion for speed. It was a passion that first led Oreiller to the discipline of alpine skiing where he would briefly shine at the 1948 Olympic Winter Games.

While other skiers competing in St. Moritz were defeated by the treacherous men’s downhill course, Henri excelled. It was no surprise that he posted the fastest time and won his first Olympic gold. He went on to win a second gold medal in the alpine combined and a bronze in the slalom.

Oreiller competed in one more edition of the Winter Games before turning his full attention to car racing. Sadly, on 7 October 1962 Henri was killed at the all too young age of 36 while driving his Ferrari in a race at Montlhéry near Paris.

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