Steamboat Springs Editor’s note: In the buildup to the Winter Olympic Games beginning Feb. 12 in Vancouver, British Columbia, the Steamboat Today has partnered with the Colorado Ski & Snowboard Museum on a series of articles that reflect on past Winter Olympic Games, beginning with the first Winter Olympics in 1924. This is the first installment of that series.
In 1894, French educator Baron Pierre de Coubertin helped found the International Olympic Committee, which became responsible for reviving the Olympic Games. Two years later, the first modern Olympic Games were organized in Athens, Greece. In 1924, the first Winter Olympic Games were held in Chamonix, France. At the time, the Winter Olympics were unofficial and referred to as International Sports Week because of protests from Scandinavian countries that the games would interfere with the Nordic Games. In spite of this, International Sports Week achieved Olympic status in 1926.
1924 Winter Olympics
These first Winter Olympic Games were from Jan. 25 to Feb. 5, 1924, in Chamonix, France. Sixteen nations participated — Austria, Belgium, Canada, Czechoslovakia, Finland, France, Great Britain, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Norway, Poland, Switzerland, Sweden, the United States and Yugoslavia. Just more than 10,000 paying spectators came to southeastern France to witness the inaugural event, which included 16 events in seven sports disciplines. While there were 258 athletes who competed in the 1924 Winter Olympics, only 11 of them were women. The members of the U.S. Olympic Ski Team participated in the three Olympic ski events: cross-country skiing, Nordic combined and ski jumping.
Anders Haugen, a native of Telemark, Norway, immigrated to the United States in 1908 and settled in Dillon. Before becoming captain of the 1924 U.S. Olympic Ski Team, Haugen won many ski jumping honors, including two U.S. amateur titles and setting successive world ski jumping records at the Dillon ski jump. While competing in Chamonix, Haugen originally was recorded as finishing fourth in the men’s individual ski jumping competition. In 1974, an error was discovered in Thorleif Haug’s score, which caused the two athletes to switch places, and half a century later, Haugen was awarded the bronze medal. He is the only American to ever win an Olympic medal in ski jumping and was inducted into the Colorado Ski & Snowboard Hall of Fame in 1978.
The U.S. finished fifth in the medal count for the 1924 Winter Olympics, with a total of four medals (1 gold, 2 silver and 1 bronze). The gold medal was won during the opening event by Charles Jewtraw in the 5,000-meter speed skating competition. The men’s ice hockey team won silver, and Beatrix Loughran won a silver medal for her performance in women’s singles figure skating.
1928 Winter Olympics
St. Moritz, Switzerland, was the location of the second Winter Olympics, held from Feb. 11 to 19. This was the first time the Winter Olympics were hosted in a different nation than the Summer Olympics of the same year. Fourteen events were held in six sports, and 464 athletes participated (26 women and 438 men). A new competition was introduced, the skeleton event, which is considered the world’s first sliding sport. Consequently, St. Moritz is referred to as the birthplace of skeleton. In addition to the 16 nations that competed in the inaugural Winter Olympics, Argentina, Estonia, Germany, Japan, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Mexico, the Netherlands and Romania competed in these games.
Norway, Sweden and Finland dominated all the skiing events: 18-kilometer cross-country, 50-kilometer cross-country, ski jumping and Nordic combined. The U.S. placed second in the medal tally, with a total of six (2 gold, 2 silver and 2 bronze). The men’s five-man bobsled teams won gold and silver. Jennison Heaton (who was part of the five-man bobsled team) and John Heaton earned gold and silver medals, respectively, in the men’s individual skeleton event. Loughran won a bronze medal in women’s singles figure skating, and John Farrell was awarded a bronze medal in the men’s 500-meter speed skating competition.
1932 Winter Olympics
The third Winter Olympics were held in Lake Placid, N.Y., from Feb. 4 through 13. The 1932 Winter Olympics was the first and only time the American group-race method was used in speed skating, with mass starts and athletes racing against all other competitors. This was in contrast to the European-style heats. Argentina, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Mexico, the Netherlands and Yugoslavia chose not to compete, but 252 athletes (21 women and 231 men) arrived from 17 nations to participate in 14 events and four sports.
Skiing competitions at these Winter Olympic Games still were limited to 18- and 50-kilometer cross-country races, Nordic combined and ski jumping. However, with more than 250 miles of trails, Lake Placid offered the cross-country ski-runner a series of trails that were unrivaled on this side of the Atlantic. They traversed mountain and valley, forest and ice-covered lake, and granted the skier every possible test of speed and endurance. Again, Norway, Sweden and Finland swept all medals for skiing events.
U.S. bobsledding medalist Eddie Eagan, from Denver, became the first person to win medals at both the Summer Olympics and Winter Olympics — and he’s still the only person to have been awarded gold medals at both games. In 1920 at Antwerp, Belgium, he won the boxing competition, and in 1932 at Lake Placid, he was part of the victorious four-man bobsled team. The U.S. won the medal tally with a total of 12 medals (6 gold, 4 silver and 2 bronze). This is the only time the U.S. has won the medal tally during the Winter Olympics.
The Colorado Ski & Snowboard Museum in Vail has artifacts on display from the Winter Olympics, including an official Olympic coat worn during the opening ceremony in 1924, a Trophy Cup won in 1927 by Anders Haugen, and Durrance Nordic wooden skis with Dorré bindings from the 1932 Winter Olympics.