Strange goings-on at the winter Olympics in Chamonix

Today is grey and very wet, raining all day. No skiing is planned so I have been investigating the first winter Olympics held in Chamonix from 25th January to 5th February 1924. It seems a very strange affair when viewed from the twenty-first century. Firstly, it only became an Olympics after the event. Initially, it was called an “International Winter Sports Week”, despite the fact that it went on for 11 days. Similar sports weeks had been held previously in France and in Scandinavia. In the 1924 International Sport Week, the medals given out were not Olympic medals, at the time, although the athletes taking part did swear the Olympic oath before competing. During the competition, the competing national representatives formed the FIS (Federation Internationale de Ski) and the next year FIS voted to recognise the 1924 sports week as an Olympic competition and the medals awarded became the first winter Olympic medals.

One medal from the games was only awarded 50 years later, in 1974 when the athlete was 86 years old. A Norwegian born American, Anders Haugen, was originally placed 4th in the ski jump competition. But. an error was discovered in the scoring 50 years later by a Norwegian sports historian. A Norwegian named Haug was demoted to 4th place and Haugen was awarded the bronze. Haug did, however, win 3 other gold medals at these games so I doubt he was too upset. Haugen travelled to Norway  in September 1974 and received his medal from Haug’s daughter.


If you think that decision was rather late in coming, it was not the last concerning the 1924 games. In 2006 the IOC decided to award medals for the curling competition, won by Great Britain with a team of 8 Scots. There were only 4 teams taking part in the curling competition and there was a tie between Sweden 1 and Sweden 2 for second place, so all the competitors got medals. However, one British player played in the Sweden 2 team when they beat France in the play-offs. So, he received both a gold and a silver medal for two different countries in the same games and the same sport. Surely unique!

Another event was called “Military Patrol”. We call it the biathlon today. This was called a “demonstration” event in 1924, as it was in 1928, 1936 and 1948. But, medals were awarded in 1924 and not in the other three Games, and it was not until 1960 that the biathlon appeared as a full Olympic competition.

Perhaps the most successful team in 1924 was the Canadian ice hockey team. They won all their matches and scored 132 goals with only 3 against. Canada were the defending ice hockey champions from the 1920 summer Olympic games!

258 athletes from 16 countries took part in the 16 events from 7 sports, namely bobsleigh, curling, figure skating, ice hockey, military patrol, Nordic skiing and speed skating. There were 43 participants from France and 30 from Switzerland but the country with most participants was Great Britain with 44. Only 11 of the participants were female and they were all competing in the ice skating event.

Just about the only tangible relic of the Olympics today in Chamonix is Le Tremplin Olympique where the ski jumping competition was held. It was built in 1905 and renovated in 1998. If you know where to look it is still quite prominent on the hillside behind the Aiguille du Midi car park just off the Chamonix ring road. Competitions are still held there occasionally.

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