Video: This is what the Winter Olympics looked like 80 years ago - less safe, more fun

Archive footage of the 1932 Winter Olympics shows a world of wooden sledges and mittens for competitors
  • @jjvincent

Sochi will be remembered for its own particular brand of overpriced, over-managed lunacy, but as this archive footage from the third Winter Olympics shows, the human desire to hold sporting competitions on slippery surfaces has a long history.

The footage is from 1932, when America hosted the Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York. Seventeen countries participated in nine different sports (compared to 88 nations competing in 102 events in 2014), and the medal table was led by the USA, followed by Norway and Canada.

The footage below makes the Olympics seems a positively homely affair. Participants in the ski jump wave their arms madly as they try to keep their balance, the speed skaters’ idea of a photo finish is to dive across the line and the bob sleigh looks to be an actual sledge.

Of course, the wind-tunnel-tested equipment and optimized poses of the 2014 Olympics have led to ever greater feats of athleticism (the target distance for ski jumping at Lake Placid was 61 metres, in Sochi its 96m) but it’s hard not to feel a little bit nostalgic for an Olympics when you can hear the ooh’s and aah’s of the crowds as the ski-jumpers come back to earth with a bang.

The US splashed out just over $1 million to fund the games (most of which went on building an Olympic stadium and the bobsleigh run – the first in North America) but this pales in comparison to Russia’s recent efforts, even without adjusting for inflation.

When you think about the current estimated price tag for Sochi ($50 billion, or as much as it costs to send 20 more rovers to Mars) its makes you wonder how much it costs to pay a man on stilt-skates to burst through a paper hoop. Whatever it was, it was cheap at the price.