The Early History of the Winter Olympics

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When the Olympic games were reestablished in the 19th century, they weren’t exactly the same as the Ancient Greek competitions from which the modern event gets its name, but they were based on the same idea—the best athletes from around the world coming together in the spirit of peaceful competition. In Ancient Greek times, the games were a way for athletes to bring pride to their city-states and wealthy patrons, and the modern games were roughly the same, except with countries instead of city-states.

The Birth of the Winter Olympics

The modern Olympic Games were in full swing by the turn of the 20th century, but they didn’t include any winter Olympic sports at that time. For this reason, the games tended to favor athletes from warmer climates, while those from colder climates were generally unable to show off their formidable athleticism. As a result, people involved with the event began proposing that the organizers make an effort to include winter games. This came to pass in the 1908 Summer Olympics in London, which featured a few figure skating events but nothing beyond that.

It wasn’t until the 1920s games in Antwerp that the winter sports got bigger play, with both figure skating and ice hockey. The following Olympics in France featured an International Winter Ports Week featuring over 250 athletes competing in 16 events. When this proved wildly successful, the International Olympic Committee knew they had to make a move to give winter sports an even bigger event.

The troubled early years

As a result, the IOC organized the second Olympic Winter Games in 1928, with the France event being retroactively designated as the first one. The games, which were held in St. Moritz, Switzerland, were plagued by organizational difficulties and weather problems. In spite of these hitches, the games went well, featuring many of the events that fans are familiar with today—including bobsledding, figure skating, speed skating, skeleton, cross-country skiing, ski jumping, Nordic combined, and ice hockey.

The next two Winter Olympics, held in Lake Placid, were equally successful, but the 1936 games in Bavaria were fraught with tension due to escalating Nazi hostility in the region. The next two games, originally planned for Japan (1940) and Italy (1944), were canceled due to the war. These were the only two times that the Winter Olympics have been canceled since their inception. The first post-war games were held in St. Moritz once again, which marked the beginning of the modern era of the Winter Olympics.

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