Thirteen Women Were the Foundation to the Winter Olympics Legacy
The first official Winter Olympics happened 30 years after the start of the modern Olympic Games. In 1924, the winter games were born in Chamonix, France though they weren’t initially recognized as the Olympics; the competition was known as the “International Winter Sports Week” even though the games were organized by the International Olympic Committee.
From 16 countries came 258 competitors, of which 13 were women. For comparison, in 2014, there were over 2,800 athletes from 88 countries. One of the biggest differences between today's games and 1924 was that all of the competitions took place outdoors. Despite chilly conditions, over 10,000 spectators paid to attend the games. There were three venues: a bobsled track, a ski jump, and a large ice sheet where ice hockey, speed skating, curling, and figure skating took place. Another significant difference was that athletes did not wear fancy uniforms denoting their country of origin. Curlers even wore coats and ties. The medals for all sports were not awarded until the final day and by then, some of the athletes had already left! The Summer and Winter Games would be held during the same year until 1994 when the games were spaced two years apart from each other and hosted in different countries.
In the 1924 Winter Olympics, men could compete in ski jumping, cross country skiing, Nordic combined (ski jumping and cross country), speed skating, figure skating, curling, bobsled, and ice hockey. Women could compete in figure skating (singles and doubles).
Group photo of all female Olympics. (Photo by FPG/Getty Images)
Women’s competitive sporting activities in the 1920's were acceptable as long as the sport was considered graceful. Ice skating fit the bill. Aggressive sports were considered unfeminine. Figure skater phenom Sonja Henie of Norway entered her first of four Olympics in 1924 at the age of 12. She came in last place but returned and became one of the most dominant figure skaters in women's sports history by earning three consecutive Gold medals in the 1928, 1932, and 1936 Winter Olympics. In 1924, the Gold medal went to Herma Planck-Szabo of Austria, the Silver to Beatrix Suzetta Loughran (USA), and the Bronze medal to Ethel Muckelt (Great Britain).
At the time, these thirteen women that were part of the first Winter Olympics might not have realized their impact on women's sports history or seen themselves as trailblazers, but just by being there and competing to the best of their ability, they inspired others to follow in their footsteps.
Photo: Figure skaters at the 1924 winter Olympics in Chamonix, France, 30th January 1924. Left to right: Gold medalist Herma Planck-Szabo of Austria, Ethel Muckelt of Britain and Beatrix Loughran of the U.S.A. Loughran and Muckelt taking silver and bronze respectively. (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
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History.com – The First Winter Olympics, Christopher Klein