St Moritz 1948

The Olympic Winter Games remained suspended during World War II. The 1940 Games were scheduled to have been held in Sapporo, Japan, but were cancelled. In 1948, the Winter Olympics were revived at St. Moritz, which had previously hosted the 1928 Games. Germany and Japan were barred from participating, but athletes from 28 countries gathered in Switzerland. Among the new nations competing were teams from Denmark, Chile, Iceland, Lebanon and Korea. Australia, having made its Winter Olympic debut in 1936, did not send a team to St. Moritz.

The various competitions provided plenty of opportunities for international squabbling. The American bobsledders claimed their equipment had been sabotaged, and a hockey game between Sweden and Canada ended in a bloody fist-fight. The IOC enraged ski instructors by maintaining its position of not allowing them to compete in alpine skiing events because they were professionals. The US incited major disputes by entering two rival ice hockey teams from different associations – the Amateur Hockey Association and the American Olympic Committee. It mattered little, with Canada winning the gold medal.

For the first time, North Americans won gold medals in figure skating. Canada’s favourite, Barbara Ann Scott, took the women’s title. The men’s gold medallist was Dick Button of the United States, aged just 18. He perfectly executed a double axel jump, a move he had mastered only two days before, to win over both the crowd and the judges. 

In general, medal success was evenly divided. Norway and Sweden led the medal table with four golds each. French alpine skier Henri Oreiller and Swedish Nordic skier Martin Lundström were able to win two gold medals. Oreiller had boasted he would easily win the downhill event. However, on the morning of the race he could not find his famous red skis. Finally they were discovered on the roof of the car of an American who had taken them by mistake. Oreiller careened down the piste wildly, but always kept his balance. Just as he had predicted, he won by a huge margin, completing the course four seconds faster than any of the other competitors.