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?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Software Development Manager

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Tradewind Recruitment: Humanities Teacher

£120 - £180 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: The Humanities Department of this ...

Tradewind Recruitment: Music Teacher

£120 - £180 per annum: Tradewind Recruitment: Newham Position: Music Start dat...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science teacher

£120 - £150 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Sutton Position: Science teacher S...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee