First Winter Olympics Begin In Chamonix, France

On January 25, 1924, the first Winter Olympics kick off in the Alpine village of Chamonix, France. Originally conceived as “International Winter Sports Week,” the Chamonix games were held in association with the 1924 Summer Olympics, held in Paris, and boasted 258 athletes (247 men and 11 women) from 16 nations, competing in a total of 18 events.

In the opening ceremonies, held on January 25, the athletes gave their oaths of amateurism to Gaston Vidal, France’s under-secretary of state for physical education. They then marched with their teams in a parade from Chamonix’s City Hall to the Olympic ice skating rink. After Vidal declared the official opening of the games in front of around 5,000 spectators, 150 athletes took to the ice for a celebration. Top skaters from the U.S., Canada, Norway and Finland held an impromptu race around the rink, while a band played the national anthems of the participating nations: France, Belgium, Austria, Estonia, Latvia, Finland, Great Britain, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, Czechoslovakia, Canada and the United States.

Competition began the next day with the 500-meter speed skating event, won by the American Charlie Jewtraw. Finland and Norway dominated the Games overall, however, winning 28 of the 43 medals awarded. Leading performers included Clas Thunberg of Finland with five medals (three gold) in speed skating; Norway’s Roald Larsen with another five speed-skating medals (two silvers and three bronzes); and Thorleif Haug of Norway, with three gold medals in cross-country and Nordic combined skiing. The U.S. and Great Britain won four medals each, and Canada won their only medal of the games–a gold–in the ice hockey competition, defeating the U.S. 6-1 in the final.

In one of the most unexpected stories to come out of the first Winter Games, the Norwegian-born American ski jumper Anders Haugen, captain of the U.S. Olympic team, came in fourth, but was awarded the bronze medal a full 50 years later, when a mathematical error was discovered that would have put Haugen in third place.

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