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Throwback: Impromptu races and the charm of the first Winter Games Opening Ceremony

Figure skaters at the 1924 winter Olympics in Chamonix, France, 30th January 1924. Left to right: Herma Planck-Szabo of Hungary, Ethel Muckelt of Britain and Beatrix Loughran of the U.S.A. Planck-Szabo won gold, with Loughran and Muckelt taking silver and bronze respectively. (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Starting small-ish

 

January 25, 1924

The opening ceremony of the first Olympic Winter Games bore little resemblance to any we have seen in recent editions, although for charm and spontaneity it was hard to beat.

Athletes from the 16 competing nations gathered in the alpine village of Chamonix in France to swear ‘oaths of amateurism’ to Gaston Vidal, the French secretary of state for physical education.

They then went on a parade from Chamonix City Hall to the Olympic skating rink. There, in front of 5,000 spectators, Vidal declared the first Winter Games open and 150 athletes took to the ice in celebration.

After that, completely without warning, the top skaters from the United States, Canada, Norway and Finland held an impromptu race, with the band playing accompanying anthems of the competing nations.

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Let’s get it started

In all, 16 nations competed at the first Winter Games at the foot of Mont Blanc and in Haute-Savoie. They were hosts France, Belgium, Austria, Estonia, Latvia, Finland, Great Britain, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, Czechoslovakia, Canada and the USA.

A total of 258 athletes took part – 247 men and 11 women.┬áThe first event came the following day: the 500m men’s speed skating, won by Charlie Jewtrew of the US.

Finland and Norway dominated the Games, winning 28 of the 43 medals on offer.

 

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