Olympic Games: The Anniversary - A week that broke the ice

75 years ago tomorrow the first Winter Olympic Games opened in Chamonix

WITH Salt Lake City's bid to host the 2002 Winter Olympic Games now knee-deep in allegations of corruption, the whole seedy Olympic movement is even further removed from a romantically innocent line by Baron Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the modern Olympic Games, who, under the pseudonym George Hohrod and Martin Eschbach, wrote Ode to Sport, the winning entry for the 1912 Stockholm Olympic literary competition. "And to the mountaintops came dawn's first glimmer,and sunbeams dappled the forest's gloomy floor." He was not to know that the sports of the mountains were to become a persistent challenge to his Olympic ideals.

Although figure skating was part of the summer Games in London in 1908 and ice hockey was added to the 1920 Games in Antwerp, the first time the International Olympic Committee gave reluctant official patronage to a "Winter Sports Week" did not occur until 1924. Two years later the event was given retrospective Olympic status. The Games opened in Chamonix on 25 January. De Coubertin was not best pleased. He had always been against fragmenting the Olympics. With accurate foreboding, he anticipated the long, bitter debates over professionalism and sponsorship. There was also opposition from the Scandinavian countries who wanted to retain the prestige of the World Championships.

It was intended that whenever possible the summer and winter Olympics would be allocated to the same country. That was another good intention quickly frozen out. Amsterdam won the right to hold the 1928 summer Games and searched high and low for some mountains, without success. So the second winter Games went to St Moritz.

Chamonix brought together 16 countries and 294 competitors but only 13 women, which temporarily weakened the argument that the winter Games would bring more women into Olympic competition. The programme did not include Alpine skiing, which was later to become the principal sport of the Games, but was not added until 1936.

As the opening day got nearer the weather got no colder; a familiar story, although a lot more worrying before the days of artificial snow and reliably refrigerated rinks. On 23 December there was no snow. By the next morning there was more than a metre.

Suddenly the problem was not one of too little but too much. All of the ice rink and its surrounds had to be cleared by hand. However, a week before the opening day the weather again became warmer. Rain fell and melted the ice. On the night before the start, temperatures dropped again and, mercifully, re-formed the ice.

The only non-European countries in the opening ceremony were the United States and Canada. Two competitors dominated the Games, Thorleif Haug, of Norway, and Clas Thunberg, of Finland. Haug, aged 29, won the 15km and 50km cross-country events and the Nordic combination, a skiing gold medal achievement not equalled until 1956 when in Cortina the Austrian Toni Sailer won the same number. Haug was also awarded the bronze medal in the ski-jumping. Fifty years later it was found that the results were wrong and that another Norwegian, Anders Haugen, who had emigrated to the United States and was representing them, had actually beaten him. In 1974 Haug's daughter presented Haugen, then 86, with the bronze medal.

Thunberg, who was unusual in that he kept in training throughout the year, won even more medals than Haug, taking three golds, a silver and bronze in the speed skating. But if those two captured the most medals, most hearts were won by a smiling 11-year-old Norwegian skater, Sonja Henie, who finished last of the eight competitors in the solo event. Nevertheless, she had taken her first steps towards a glittering international career both as a skater and film star. In Chamonix, though, she was outclassed by Herma Plank-Szabo, who represented the classical Viennese school of skating.

Henie went on to become world champion at 15 and to win three successive Olympic golds. She amassed a total of 10 world titles. Her artistic, gymnastic style changed the sport forever, also opening up the possibilities of professionalism. It brought her a lucrative contract with 20th Century Fox in Hollywood where she made 11 films. She died from leukaemia in 1969.

Among the events in Chamonix was the bobsleigh, although some still used the "Cresta boblet" in which they lay flat and sped down the course head first in the daring style of the original tobogganing. The Swiss second crew won after their first had crashed, and Britain took the silver to add to an ice hockey bronze.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham
booksLena Dunham's memoirs - written at the age of 28 - are honest to the point of making you squirm
Life and Style
fashionThe supermodel on her career, motherhood and Cara Delevingne
News
Liam Payne has attacked the media for reporting his tweet of support to Willie Robertson and the subsequent backlash from fans
peopleBut One Direction star insists he is not homophobic
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvSeries 5 opening episode attracts lowest ratings since drama began
News
i100
Life and Style
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
techNew app offers 'PG alternative' to dating services like Tinder
Sport
Greg Dyke insists he will not resign as Football Association chairman after receiving a watch worth more than £16,000 but has called for an end to the culture of gifts being given to football officials
football
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden sings his heart out in his second audition
tvX Factor: How did the Jakes - and Charlie Martinez - fare?
Sport
premier league
Sport
Frank Lampard and his non-celebration
premier leagueManchester City vs Chelsea match report from the Etihad Stadium
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel, Chandler and Ross try to get Ross's sofa up the stairs in the famous 'Pivot!' scene
tv
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave crime series
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

C# asp.net Developer - West Sussex - permanent - £40k - £50k

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum + excellent benefits package: Clearwater People Solu...

SQL Report Analyst (SSRS, CA, SQL 2012)

£30000 - £38500 Per Annum + 25 days holiday, pension, subsidised restaurant: C...

Project Manager (infrastructure, upgrades, rollouts)

£38000 - £45000 Per Annum + excellent benefits package: Clearwater People Solu...

Project Manager (App development, SAP, interfacing)

£50000 - £60000 Per Annum + excellent company benefits: Clearwater People Solu...

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments