week on February 4 the XXIV Olympic Winter Games will kick off with an
elaborate, self-congratulatory Opening Ceremony at the Bird’s nest
a/k/a the Beijing National Stadium.
The games will be held amid even more controversy and drama then
have become customary for modern Olympiads. In protest to rampant human rights
violations in China, especially the repression of the Muslim
Uyghurs—some charge genocide—in the country’s far northwest, suppression
of Hong Kong protests in 2019 and ’20, and a general
harsh suppression of speech, art, and even the mildest protests,
the United States and many of its Western friends and allies announce
diplomatic boycotts of the games meaning that no government dignitaries
or officials will attend.
this week NBC and its related cable channels announced that they
would not even be sending anchors or on-air reporters and commentators
to the games despite having invested a fortune in broadcast rights
and relying traditionally high ratings to boost viewership
and ad revenue. Major
corporations have canceled or plan to cut back advertising
during the games. Anchors and commentators
will be based in a New Jersey studio relying on international video
feeds from China. Presumably at
least some producers and crews will be in China to facilitate interviews with
athletes and some of the human interest pieces that have become a
staple of the games.
send reporters, but probably not anchor Lester Holt. They will be prevented from much if any coverage
outside of the venues and will not be able to cover human rights
or environmental stories.
of this is set against the background of the raging Coronavirus Pandemic
and the exceptionally contagious Omicron variant. China, of course, was the origin of
the Covid-19 infection which it brought largely under control domestically
with a campaign of vigorous disinfection and lock-downs often
enforced brutally. Authorities have
been quick to respond of Omicron cases and outbreaks with similar
measures, including shutting down entire cities, residential
buildings, hotels, and workplaces often without even making provision
for food, water, or bedding. International visitors and everyone associated
with Games are tested repeatedly.
No international audiences or family and friends of
athletes will be allowed. Some teams and
individual athletes have pulled out of the games for fear of infection or
because they refuse vaccination and/or testing.
hopes to demonstrate that its authoritarian system is superior to
Western democracies in dealing with Coronavirus crisis. Despite these efforts at least 200
individuals associated with the games have tested positive and been
placed in strict isolation.
Games, which are supposed to promote international peace and understanding,
also comes as Russia threatens an invasion of Ukraine,
both traditional Olympic powerhouses.
An outbreak of war would certainly disrupt the Games.
98 years ago, the Winter Games had a far less troubled, if modest origin.
Poster for the Winter Games retroactively designated as the first Winter Olympics.
January 25, 1924 athletes from 16 nations gathered at the foot of Mont Blanc in Chamonix, and Haute-Savoie,
France for an International Winter Sports Week.
The event was considered by its host, the French Olympic Committee, to be an informal extension of the Olympics
Games held that summer in Paris. It was in response to a clamor, particularly by Nordic
countries for an international venue
for amateur winter sports.
was only after the conclusion of the
successful games that the International
Olympic Committee (IOC) decided
to formally inaugurate the Winter Games at their meeting in 1925,
that they retroactively proclaimed
the Chamonix games the I Olympic Winter
Games. Thereafter the games would be
held every four years in the same years as the Summer Games—interrupted by World War II—until 1994 when the current schedule of holding the game two years after the last
Summer event was adopted.
French event was not, however the first time some winter sports were part of
Olympic games. Figure Skating had been an Olympic event in both London and Antwerp, and Ice Hockey
was contested in Antwerp on indoor rinks. Obviously those events which had to be held outdoors could not be accommodated
in a normal Olympic schedule.
first games were totally dominated
by Nordic teams. Norway won four Gold Medals
and 17 total medals, Finland had
four Golds and 11 total. The United States only took a Gold in Speed Skating, a very distant Silver in Hockey, Silver in Lady’s Figure Skating, and a Bronze for Men’s Ski Jump. But that was
better than the hapless home team,
despite fielding the second largest number of athletes. The French won just three Bronze medals, one
of them not actually awarded until 2006.
Curling had been presented during the games
but was not considered an official sport. In 2006, the IOC retroactively awarded medals to the 1924 curling teams after an appeal on behalf of the victorious British by a Glasgow newspaper.
Curling medals were not the only ones awarded tardily. When officials in 1974 discovered a mis-entered score in a ski jumping
event, American Anders Haugen was
elevated from fourth place to third and the 86 year old athlete finally
received his Bronze.
last medal presented during the competition was awarded to a sport that was not
even contested during the games. The
French Olympic Committee presented a Gold Medal for alpinisme to Charles Granville Bruce, the leader of
the expedition that tried but failed
to climb Mount Everest in 1922.
Athletes at the games competed in 16 events in 9 sports—Bob Sled, Curling, Ice Hockey, Military Patrol, Figure Skating, Speed Skating, Cross Country Skiing, Nordic Combined Skiing, and Ski Jumping.
Norway's 13 year old Sonja Henie placed last in 1924 but was the darling of the games. She went on to win Gold Medals in the next three Winter Games and a career in Hollywood movies.
Figure Skating Sweden’s Gillis Grafström became the first—and
last—individual to successfully defend
a Gold Medal won at a previous Summer game, Antwerp in 1920. He would
go on to notch a third win in 1928 and a Silver in 1932. On the distaff
side 11 year old Sonja Henie
skated for Norway. She finished last but
became the darling of the competition. She would go
on to win the next three consecutive Gold Medals, a career as one of the highest paid movies stars in Hollywood, and the first ice show queen.
there was Ice Hockey. The Canadians,
like Grafström defending Gold won at Antwerp, achieved the most devastating complete domination of an event in
Olympic history, Summer or Winter. They
finished their qualifying round with 4 wins, and a total score of 110–3 against
Switzerland, Czechoslovakia, Sweden, and Great Britain then breezed to a win
topping the U.S. This domination
continued through most of early Olympic history. The Canadians won six of the first seven Gold
Medals. Frankly, the whole country has
had a swelled head and been a dick about this ever since.
it was an exciting and successful week of completion. Unlike the enormously expensive Summer games
that year in Paris, the winter events even turned a modest profit. They helped popularize winter sports in Europe and
North America. Not a bad debut.