First Winter Olympic Games Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The International Winter Sports Week, sponsored by the International Olympic Committee, brought together athletes from sixteen nations to compete in sixteen events. It was so successful that two years later it was declared to have been the First Winter Olympic Games.

Summary of Event

Although Pierre de Coubertin’s vision for the Olympics was rooted in the sports of the ancient Greek Olympic Games, organizers of the first modern Olympic Games wanted to hold Winter Games as well as Summer Games. Most of the nations that would have participated in the Winter Games, however, already held similar events. The success of the Nordic Games, held in Stockholm, meant that the Norwegians, Swedes, and Finns resisted the organization of a competing event. France sponsored a Winter Sports Week at Chamonix in 1908 that drew two thousand spectators, and another in 1912 brought twelve thousand people to Chamonix. Sports;Olympic Games Winter Olympic Games Olympic Games;Chamonix, France (1924) International Winter Sports Week [kw]First Winter Olympic Games (Jan. 25-Feb. 5, 1924) [kw]Winter Olympic Games, First (Jan. 25-Feb. 5, 1924) [kw]Olympic Games, First Winter (Jan. 25-Feb. 5, 1924) [kw]Games, First Winter Olympic (Jan. 25-Feb. 5, 1924) Sports;Olympic Games Winter Olympic Games Olympic Games;Chamonix, France (1924) International Winter Sports Week [g]France;Jan. 25-Feb. 5, 1924: First Winter Olympic Games[06000] [c]Sports;Jan. 25-Feb. 5, 1924: First Winter Olympic Games[06000] [c]Diplomacy and international relations;Jan. 25-Feb. 5, 1924: First Winter Olympic Games[06000] Henie, Sonja Haug, Thorleif Grafström, Gillis Thams, Jacob Tullin Thunberg, Clas Skutnabb, Julius Haugen, Anders Coubertin, Pierre de

As a result of the appeal generated by France’s Winter Sports Week, in 1922 the International Olympic Committee voted in favor of an International Winter Sports Week, which would be held in Chamonix in 1924 to correspond with the Summer Games being held that year in Paris. The Scandinavians continued to resist, but when the Games finally began on January 25, 1924, the Norwegians, Finns, and Swedes were there. Although the Scandinavians were expected to dominate the Games, the very first event was won by an American, speed skater Charles Jewtraw, who upset the powerful Finnish speed skater Clas Thunberg and Norwegian Oskar Olsen in the 500-meter race. Overall, however, the Scandinavians did dominate the Games. Norway and Finland won twenty-eight of the forty-three medals available, and Norway alone won eleven of the twelve total medals in the four Nordic events. Finland won the other, a bronze, and together the two nations won fifteen of the sixteen speed skating races (one of which ended in a tie).

Among the medal winners were some of the most impressive individual performances of the Chamonix Olympic Games. Finnish speed skater Thunberg won three gold medals, one silver medal, and two bronze medals, and one of his gold medals was for the combination of all four events. His teammate, Julius Skutnabb, won a gold, a silver, and a bronze (in the combined event), in spite of the fact that he was thirty-four years old and that his career had been interrupted by World War I. Norwegian Jacob Tullin Thams became the first Olympic ski-jump champion, and the Norwegian team dominated this event. Thams’s teammate, Thorleif Haug, was Norway’s biggest winner: He earned gold medals in the 50-kilometer cross-country, the 18-kilometer cross-country, and the combined cross-country and ski jump. He also won a bronze medal in the ski jump.

Although the Norwegians and Finns won many of the medals, the single most impressive display of athletic ability was offered by the Canadian ice-hockey team. In their first game, the Canadians beat Switzerland 33-0, and followed that win with a 30-0 triumph over Czechoslovakia, a 22-0 victory over Sweden, and a 19-2 victory over Great Britain. In the finals, they defeated the team from the United States 6-1 and won the tournament with a 110-3 scoring advantage over their opponents.

The most celebrated participant to emerge from the Chamonix Games did not win any medals. Sonja Henie, an eleven-year-old Norwegian figure skater, was such a novice that she frequently paused in her freestyle routine to skate to the sidelines and ask her coach a question. By 1927, however, she had begun a series of ten consecutive World Championships that was punctuated by gold medals at the Winter Olympic Games of 1928, 1932, and 1936. Her fame soared: By the early 1930’s, she needed a police escort during appearances in Europe and the United States. After her skating career ended, she became a Hollywood movie star and toured with ice shows, inspiring generations of figure skaters from the United States and establishing figure skating as one of the most popular sports of the Winter Olympic Games.

At the Chamonix Games, the standard in figure skating was set by an innovative Swede named Gillis Grafström. Grafström changed the nature of figure skating from a series of gliding dance routines to an athletic sport by inventing jumps and spins—the spiral, the change-sit spin, the flying-sit spin—that altered the routines in dramatic ways. After winning gold at Antwerp, when figure skating was an event in the Summer Games, Grafström won again at Chamonix. He would subsequently take gold medals at St. Moritz, Switzerland, and Lake Placid, New York, making him the most successful figure skater in Olympic history.

The medal ceremony for all events was held at the closing of the Games. Since many of the medal winners had already left Chamonix, at the ceremony their medals were presented to other members from their delegations. At the same event, Pierre de Coubertin, the father of the modern Olympic movement and winner of an Olympic literary prize at the 1912 Summer Games, presented a prize for alpinism to Charles Bruce, who had led a 1922 expedition that tried to climb Mount Everest.

It was 1974 before the final medal was awarded for the Chamonix Games. During the ski-jumping competition, an American named Anders Haugen had finished fourth, behind three Norwegians, after losing style points on an extraordinary jump. When the Norwegian team met in 1974 on the fiftieth anniversary of their victory, they discovered a calculation error that showed Haugen had actually finished in third place. In a remarkable demonstration of the Olympic sprit, the widow of the bronze medal winner, Nordic champion Thorleif Haug, insisted that Haugen be brought to Norway at age eighty-six and awarded the bronze medal (still in her possession) for his jump fifty years earlier.


The International Winter Sports Week was so successful that in 1926 the event was designated the First Winter Olympic Games. The success ultimately proved to be significantly broader, however, as the first Winter Olympics (and its predecessors) showcased skills that had long been developed by Scandinavian armies and residents of cold-weather climates. Because the competitions were held exclusively on ice or snow, for many years participation in the quadrennial Games was largely confined to countries with long, cold winters. As the Winter Games grew more popular, however, nations began to adapt local conditions or build facilities in which athletes could train for Winter Olympic events. As a result, the 1928 Games in St. Moritz saw an 84 percent increase in participants, and the numbers of athletes competing continued to grow in the years to follow. Sports;Olympic Games Winter Olympic Games Olympic Games;Chamonix, France (1924) International Winter Sports Week

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Greenspan, Bud. Frozen in Time: The Greatest Moments at the Winter Olympics. Toronto: Stoddart, 1997. More than fifty-five brief but dramatic accounts of memorable events during the Winter Olympics by the Olympic movement’s most famous film historian and documentarian. Includes the story of Anders Haugen.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Strait, Raymond. Queen of Ice, Queen of Shadows: The Unsuspected Life of Sonja Henie. Bath, England: Scarborough House, 1990. A candid and inspiring, although sometimes dark and disturbing, biography of Henie. Focuses on the effect of early fame and her father’s expectations on her personal development.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Wallechinsky, David. The Complete Book of the Winter Olympics, 2006 Edition: Turin. Toronto: SportClassic Books, 2005. An exhaustive reference work with complete descriptions and histories of the events of the Winter Olympics, including lists of winners for each event throughout Olympic history.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Wukovits, John. The Encyclopedia of the Winter Olympics. Princeton, N.J.: Franklin Watts, 2002. A concise introduction to the history of the Winter Games, its events, and its most celebrated participants, including Sonja Henie.

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Categories: History