Wednesday, January 26, 2011

January 26, 1924: Winter gold

CHAMONIX, France - For a few years, events like figure skating and ice hockey were held during the Summer Olympics. It was an awkward setup, and though the medals awarded in those events were considered legitimate, the organizers of those sports wanted a more prominient showcase for their events.

In 1924, the French Olympic Committee organized International Winter Sports Week, to be held the same year as the Summer Olympics. Taking place in Chamonix, at the foot of Mont Blanc, the competition allowed sports such as figure skating, speed skating, hockey, and skiing to have their moment of glory in a more natural setting.

Though they weren't referred to at the time as such, these events came to be known retroactively as the first Winter Olympic Games. As such, many Olympic firsts were set during this week in France.

And as for the very first winter Olympic gold medal? That honor went to Charles Jewtraw of the United States, who won gold in the 500 meter speed skating event, the first event held at Chamonix. The gold Jewtraw won was the only medal he won in his Olympic career and was the only American gold medal at the Chamonix games. In fact, he was the only man from outside Scandinavia to win a medal of any color in speed skating in the first two Olympics.

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