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100th anniversary of the Winter Olympics: Flashback to Chamonix 1924

1924 Winter Olympics Chamonix
1924 Winter Olympics Chamonix

The first Winter Olympics, which opened on Jan. 25, 1924, in Chamonix, France, weren't called "the Olympics" at the time.

In short, the name was "International Winter Sports Week."

In full, in French, it was, “Les sports d’hiver à Chamonix Mont-Blanc par le Comité Olympique Français avec la collaboration de la Fédération Française des Sports d’Hiver et du Club Alpin Français sous le Haut Patronage du Comité International Olympique à l’occasion de la Célébration des Jeux de la VIIIème Olympiade," according to the OlyMADMen, a group of Olympic historians.

The IOC added the Olympic Winter Games in 1925, and the Chamonix event was given retroactive Olympic status.

Those first Games had 312 participants from 19 countries in 17 medal events. Figure skating and hockey were previously held at Summer Games.

The U.S. team traveled by steam ship (12 days) to the Games, three years before Charles Lindbergh flew over the Atlantic Ocean in the Spirit of St. Louis.

The U.S. had won the first modern Summer Olympic event in 1896 (James Connolly in the triple jump). An American claimed the first Winter Olympic title, too.

Charley Jewtraw won the first gold medal in speed skating's 500m (held outdoors, as was every sport). The medal was later sent to the Smithsonian National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C., but it is currently listed as not on view.

"It was like a fairy tale," Jewtraw said, according to Sports Illustrated in 1983. "I was a poor boy from Lake Placid. I'd been national champion, but I'd retired from skating. I wanted to move on. I was being tutored for Bowdoin College — I'd never finished high school, but I wanted my education. Then I got a telegram saying we would send an Olympic team to France. I hadn't trained at all. I didn't want to go. My tutor convinced me I should. I was so sick crossing the ocean that I kept praying the ship would sink. I wasn't even nervous the day of the race. Why would I be? I knew I couldn't win."

The standout athletes included Canadian hockey player Harry "Moose" Watson, who scored 37 goals in five games, an Olympic record that still stands.

Finland's Clas Thunberg won a medal in all four men's speed skating distances from 500m through 10,000m, plus allround gold.

American Anders Haugen originally finished fourth in the first ski jumping event. Fifty years later, Norwegian sports historian Jacob Vaage noticed an error in the results that gave bronze medalist Thorleif Haug too many points. The correction bumped Haugen into third. Then 85, Haugen was awarded the bronze medal by Haug’s daughter at a special ceremony.

French officials are now in advanced discussions with the IOC to host the 2030 Winter Games across the Alps, including a plan to hold biathlon and cross-country skiing near Chamonix.