The Winter Olympics: Added to Games in 1924

While the every four-years tradition of the Olympic Games was begun by the Greeks in ancient times, the original games eventually faded out only to be resurrected by a French aristocrat in the late 19th century. Pierre de Coubertin felt it was important to encourage athletic activity, so he organized an international meeting on the subject in 1894. In 1896, the first modern Olympic Games were held in Athens with nine summer sporting competitions and 250 athletes.

Winter Olympic Games were to debut in 1916 but the entire Olympic schedule was canceled because of the outbreak of World War I. In 1920 the games resumed, and figure skating and ice hockey were added to the roster of events for the games, held that year in Antwerp, Belgium. The first official winter sports week was held in Chamonix, France from January 25-February 4,1924 with approximately 200 athletes participating in 16 events. Only 15 of the athletes were women, and their participation in the winter sports was limited to figure skating.

Competitions involved speed skating (500, 1500, 5,000 and 10,000 meter races), figure skating (men, women and couples), hockey and skiing. Competitions for “bob sleighing” and curling were held, but the United States did not enter those competitions.

Travel for the U.S. winter athletes in 1924 was by ship. They departed in early January, a schedule that was intended to allow time for preliminary training. The hockey team left on the steamship, the President Garfield, on January 2. The skaters departed a day later on the President Monroe. The athletes had no Ralph Lauren clothing to wear for the event, as their contemporary competitors do, but they did have an American shield that was prominently displayed on each of their coats. Six men speed skaters were making the trip, along with Miss Beatarix Laughran, a figure skater, who was accompanied by a chaperone.

At the end of the winter competitions, the United States was in fourth place, only one point behind Great Britain, but those two countries lagged far behind Norway and Finland. In an analysis of the game, a reporter for The New York Times, noted,

“The showing of the United States in these sports was neither better nor worse than might have been reasonably expected. There are great sections of this country where there is no ice or snow and it would be surprising if this nation could develop a team capable of defeating those of the North countries where the children learn to skate and ski at an early age and have opportunities for constant practice that are not available here.” (The New York Times, 2-4-1924)

Times have certainly changed, haven’t they?

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