French aristocrat Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympic Games, initially had little interest in adding winter competitions to the Olympic program. However, the growing cadre of snow-sport enthusiasts clamoured for the inclusion of cold-weather events. And so in 1921 the International Olympic Committee voted to stage “International Sports Week 1924” in Chamonix, France. The event attracted athletes from 16 nations, with six sports on the program. It proved a great success and was retroactively named the first Olympic Winter Games.
American Charles Jewtraw became the first Winter Olympic champion when he won the men’s 500m speed skating event, the first event held in Chamonix. That was the only gold won by the American team as athletes from northern Europe dominated. The star was Finland’s Clas Thunberg, who won medals in all five speed skating events: three gold, one silver and one bronze. Norway’s Thorleif Haug excelled in Nordic skiing, winning both cross-country races and the Nordic combined (ski jumping and cross-country). The Canadian men’s ice hockey team started their Olympic tradition of success, winning all five of their matches and outscoring their opponents 110 goals to 3.
In women’s figure skating, a tiny 11-year-old from Norway named Sonja Henie made her Olympic debut. She was the youngest competitor at the Games. She placed last in the eight-woman field, but would soon become the Winter Olympics’ first true star, winning gold at the next three Games.
While Chamonix was the first Winter Olympics, it should be noted that winter sports had been included on the program of two previous summer Olympics. Figure skating featured at the London 1908 Olympics, and figure skating and ice hockey were contested at the Antwerp 1920 Olympics.
Australia at these Games
Australia did not make its Olympic Winter Games debut until Garmisch-Partenkirchen 1936.