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.
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).
— French Embassy U.S. (@franceintheus) January 25, 2017
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.