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Throwback: Jewtraw breaks the mould to win historic Games speed skating gold

January 1924:  A group of American skaters practising for the 1924 Winter Olympics at Chamonix.  (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)

 

The first gold medal winner

 

January 26, 1924

American Charlie Jewtraw will forever be known as the first gold medal winner at the first Olympic Winter Games.

When the 23-year-old speed skater arrived at Chamonix 1924 for his first event, the 500m, the odds seemed stacked against him.

He had never raced the distance before (the comparable event in the US was 440 yards) and had never competed one on one in a race (heats were five or six-man affairs in his home country).

Jewtraw did have one clear advantage though, even if he did not know it. The American junior champion, who grew up near Lake Placid, New York, had a swinging arm style that most of his rivals had never seen, let alone tried, before.

 

To change an event forever

Soon it became the technique of choice, Jewtraw having changed the event in much the same way that his compatriot Dick Fosbury did in the high jump many decades later.

For the 500m, Jewtraw was drawn in the 13th heat against Charles Gorman of Canada. With his arms pumping, he powered clear of his rival, crossing the line in a time of 44.0 seconds – 0.2 seconds quicker than anyone else.

“I stood in the middle of the rink and they played the Star Spangled Banner. The whole American team rushed out on the ice. They hugged me like I was a beautiful girl.”

After that came the medal ceremony.

“I stood in the middle of the rink and they played the Star Spangled Banner,” he later remembered. “The whole American team rushed out on the ice. They hugged me like I was a beautiful girl.”

The rest of the Games were less illustrious for the American, however, as he finished eighth in the 1500m and 13th in the 5,000m. After the Games, he retired from speed skating to work for the Spalding Sports Goods Company.

In 1996 he died at the grand old age of 95, with his extra special gold medal donated to the Museum of American History at the Smithsonian Institute.

 

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