Winter Olympic Games

2008/9 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Sports events

An athlete carries the Olympic torch during the 2002 torch relay
An athlete carries the Olympic torch during the 2002 torch relay

The Winter Olympic Games are a winter multi-sport event held every four years. They feature winter sports held on ice or snow, such as ice skating and skiing.

Each National Olympic Committee (NOC), as with the Summer Olympics, enters athletes to compete against other NOC's athletes for gold, silver, and bronze medals. Fewer nations participate in the Winter Olympics than the Summer Olympics; the most obvious reason for this is sheer geography, as most of the countries near the equator have no access to winter sport training facilities.

Like the Summer Olympics, the United States has hosted the most times, four, most recently in Salt Lake City, Utah in 2002. France has hosted the Winter Olympics three times. Austria, Italy, Japan, Norway, and Switzerland have all hosted the games twice. Canada will have hosted twice after the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. Germany and Yugoslavia have hosted the games once and Russia will host the Winter Olympics for the first time in 2014. Three cities have hosted twice; Lake Placid, United States, St. Moritz, Switzerland, and Innsbruck, Austria

The most recent games were held in Turin, Italy in 2006, and the next games will be held in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada in 2010. On July 4, 2007, the Russian resort of Sochi was chosen to host the 2014 Winter Olympics.


The early years

When the International Olympic Committee (IOC) was established in 1894, one of the sports proposed for the programme was ice skating. However, no skating was conducted at the Olympics until the 1908 Summer Olympics in London, which featured four figure skating events. Ulrich Salchow (10 time World champion) and Madge Syers (first competitive woman figure skater) won the individual titles with ease.

Three years later, Italian count Eugenio Brunetta d'Usseaux proposed that the IOC stage a week with winter sports as part of the 1912 Summer Olympics in Stockholm. The organisers opposed this idea, wanting to promote the Nordic Games, a winter sports competition held every four years. However, this same idea was again proposed for the 1916 Games, which were to be held in Berlin. A winter sports week with speed skating, figure skating, ice hockey and Nordic skiing was planned, but the 1916 Olympics were cancelled after the outbreak of World War I.

The first Olympics after the war, the 1920 Games in Antwerp, again, featured figure skating, while ice hockey made its Olympic debut. At the IOC Congress held the following year, it was decided that the organisers of the next Olympics (France) would also host a separate "International Winter Sports Week", under patronage of the IOC. This "week" (it actually lasted 11 days) proved to be a great success and in 1925 the IOC decided to create separate Olympic Winter Games, not connected to the Summer Olympics.

It wasn't until 1926 at the 24th IOC Session in Lisbon, that the 1924 events in Chamonix were retroactively designated as the first Winter Olympics. The French town in the Haute-Savoie hosted the Games from January 25 to February 5. These first Olympics attracted more than 200 athletes from 16 nations, competing in 16 events. The first event on the program was 500 m speed skating won by U.S. athlete Charlie Jewtraw, who thereby became the first Olympic Winter Games champion, though not the first winter Olympic champion, since figure skating and ice hockey were held in 1908 and 1920. Overall, in 1924, Finnish and Norwegian athletes dominated events.

St. Moritz was appointed by the Swiss organisers to host the second Olympic Winter Games, held from February 11 to February 19 in 1928. Curling and military patrol were no longer medal sports (although the latter was demonstrated) while skeleton made its first Olympic appearance. Warm weather conditions plagued the Olympics on the fourth day. The 10000 m speed skating was abandoned in the 5th pair, and the 50 km cross-country event ended with a temperature of 77 °F (25 °C), forcing a third of the field to abandon competition.

The next Olympics came to North America for the first time. However, fewer athletes participated than in 1928, as the journey to Lake Placid, New York was a long and expensive one for most competitors, and there was little money for sports in the midst of the Great Depression. On top of that, these games too were marred by warm weather, which eventually made it necessary to extend them for two more days. The Games opened on February 4 and closed on February 15. Eddie Eagan, who had been an Olympic champion in boxing in 1920, won the gold in the men's bobsled event during these games to become the first and so far only Olympian to have won gold medals in both the Summer and Winter Olympics.

The Bavarian twin towns of Garmisch and Partenkirchen joined to organise the 1936 edition of the Winter Games, held from February 6 to the 16th. Alpine skiing made its Olympic debut in Germany, but skiing teachers were barred from entering, as they were considered to be professionals. This decision caused the Swiss and Austrian skiers to boycott the Olympics. The cross-country relay was also held for the first time, while the military patrol and ice stock sport were demonstration sports.

World War II

The Second World War interrupted the celebration of the Winter Olympics. The 1940 Winter Olympics had originally been awarded to Japan, and were supposed to be held in Sapporo, but Japan had to give the Games back in 1938, because of the Japanese invasion of China in the Sino-Japanese War. Subsequently, St. Moritz, Switzerland was chosen by the IOC to host the 1940 Winter Olympics, but three months later the IOC withdrew St. Moritz from the Games, because of quarrels with the Swiss organisation team. Garmisch-Partenkirchen, the hosts of the previous games, stepped in to organise the Games again, but the Games were cancelled in their entirety in November of 1939 because Germany had invaded Poland two months before.

The 1944 Winter Olympics, scheduled to take place in Cortina d'Ampezzo, were cancelled in the Summer of 1941, again, due to the still raging World War II.


The Swiss town of St. Moritz, untouched by the war because of Switzerland's neutrality, became the first place to host the Winter Olympics for the second time in 1948. Twenty-eight countries competed in Switzerland from January 30 to February 8, although athletes from Germany and Japan were not invited. Alpine skiing events were expanded to include the slalom and downhill. Skeleton returned to the programme after 20 years, but once more, the sport disappeared after the St. Moritz games, not to return again until 2002.

In 1952, the Winter Games came to Norway, the country considered the birthplace of modern skiing. As a tribute, the Olympic Flame was lit in the fireplace of the home of skiing pioneer Sondre Nordheim. The programme in Oslo, from February 14 to February 25, was expanded with the first ever cross-country event for women, while the alpine combined was replaced with the giant slalom. Bandy, a popular sport in the Nordic countries, was held as a demonstration sport. Germany returned to the Olympic Games after 16 years, although only represented by West German athletes.

After not being able to host the Games in 1944 due to the war, Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy was able to organise the 1956 Winter Olympics, held from January 26 to February 5. At the first Winter Games to be televised, the programme was extended with two events in cross-country skiing. The most important development was the debut of the Soviet Union at the Winter Olympics. They immediately showed their potential by winning more medals than any other nation.

In the late 1950s when the Olympics were awarded to Squaw Valley for 1960, this resort town in California founded by Alexander Cushing was a ghost town. After being awarded the games, there was a rush to construct roads, hotels, restaurants, and bridges, as well as the ice arena, the speed skating track, ski lifts, and the ski jumping hill. By 1960, everything was in place. There was a fear of lack of snow, but late snowfall prevented a disaster. The Games were held from February 18 to the 28th. While bobsleighing was absent (the organizing committee found it expensive as only 9 nations would take part), biathlon was first contested at the Olympics, and women first took part in speed skating.

The Tyrolean city of Innsbruck was the host in 1964. Despite being a traditional winter sports resort, there was a lack of snow and ice during the Games and the Austrian army was called in to bring snow and ice to the sport venues. Bobsleigh returned to the Olympics, while a new event was added to ski jumping and women's cross-country skiing. Luge was first contested in the Olympics, although the sport received bad publicity when a competitor was killed in a pre-Olympic training run.

Held in the French town of Grenoble, the 1968 Winter Olympics were the first Olympic Games in which East and West Germany participated as separate countries. Until 1964, they had competed in a combined German team. One new event was added for the Grenoble Games: the 4 × 10 km relay in biathlon. Another first in these Olympics were doping and sex tests.

The 1972 Winter Games were the first to be held outside North America or Europe. The Games in Sapporo, Japan, were surrounded by several professionalism issues. Three days before the Olympics, IOC president Avery Brundage threatened to bar a large number of top alpine skiers from competing because they did not comply with the amateurism rules. Eventually, only Austrian star Karl Schranz, who earned most of all skiers, was not allowed to compete. On a historical note, the 1972 Games were the last Olympic Winter Games where a skier would win the gold medal using all-wooden skis. After this, all top-level cross-country skiing would take place with the athletes using skis made mostly of fibreglass synthetics.

Originally, the 1976 Winter Games had been awarded to Denver, but in 1972 the residents of Denver and of Colorado expressed unwillingness to host the Games through a city plebiscite and a state referendum. Whistler, British Columbia was also offered the Games as they had bid earlier, but the new government there rejected the offer. Innsbruck, which still had the venues of 1964 in good shape, was chosen in 1973 to replace Denver. Because it was the second time the Austrian town hosted the Games, two Olympic flames were lit. New events on the programme included ice dancing and the men's 1000 m in speed skating.

1980s and beyond

The Olympic Winter Games returned to Lake Placid, New York, which had earlier hosted the 1932 edition. The People's Republic of China made its debut at the Winter Olympics. Because of this, the Republic of China (Taiwan) was forced by the IOC to compete under the name of Chinese Taipei. The Taiwanese refused, and thus became the only nation to boycott the Olympic Winter Games. The threat of the American boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympics was also clouding these Olympics, as much of the debate about doing so fell during the Winter Games. Fortunately, there were also many sporting highlights. Speed skater Eric Heiden set world records in each of the 5 events he competed in. For the Americans, however, the highlight of the Games was the Olympic ice hockey tournament. In a match later dubbed the " Miracle on Ice", the home team upset the favoured Soviet Union, and went on to win the title.

Sarajevo was quite a surprising choice for the 1984 Winter Olympics, as no Yugoslavian athlete had ever won an Olympic medal in the Winter Games. This gap was filled by alpine skier Jure Franko, who won a silver medal in the giant slalom. There was only one new event at the Sarajevo Games, a 20 km cross-country event for women.

The city of Calgary, Alberta hosted the first Winter Olympics to span 16 days, in 1988. New events were added in ski jumping and speed skating, while future Olympic sports curling, short track speed skating and freestyle skiing made their appearance as demonstration sports. In alpine skiing, the Super G was added for the first time, while the combined event was reinstated after a 40-year absence from the Olympics. For the first time, the speed skating events were held indoors, on the Olympic Oval. Dutch skater Yvonne van Gennip beat the favoured East German, winning three gold medals and setting two new world records. Her total was equalled by Finnish ski jumper Matti Nykänen, who won all events in his sport. Not all athletes making the headlines were winning medals: British ski jumper Eddie 'the Eagle' Edwards, who came in last, and Jamaica's first ever bobsleigh team also received plenty of attention.

In 1986, the IOC decided to reschedule the Summer and Winter Games by alternating between them every 2 years: each would still be held in four-year cycles, but two years apart from one another. The 1992 Games were the last to be held in the same year as the Summer Games. They were held in the French Haute Savoie region; Albertville itself only hosted 18 events. Two new sports, short track speed skating and freestyle skiing were on the programme. Women's biathlon was also included for the first time. Curling, speed skiing and two freestyle skiing events were demonstrated. Political changes of the time were reflected in the Olympic teams appearing in France. Germany competed as a single nation for the first time since the two German countries ceased competing as a unified team following the 1964 Games, and former Yugoslavian republics Croatia and Slovenia made their debut. Most of former Soviet republics still competed as a single team, under the name of Unified Team, but the Baltic States made independent appearances, for the first time since before World War II. Finnish ski jumper Toni Nieminen made history by becoming the youngest male Winter Olympic champion. New Zealand skier Annelise Coberger made history with a silver medal in the women's slalom, becoming the first Winter Olympic medallist from the Southern Hemisphere.

The Lillehammer Games in 1994 were the first Winter Olympics to be held without the Summer Games in the same year; in a non-leap, even year. The winter sports-minded Norwegians organised the Olympics extremely well, and many still consider them to be the best organised to date. The event programme was again extended, adding two new events each in freestyle skiing and short track speed skating. After the split-up of Czechoslovakia in 1993, the Czech Republic and Slovakia made their Olympic debut in Lillehammer, as did several former Soviet republics. A lot of media attention, especially in the United States, went to the women's figure skating competition, as American skater Nancy Kerrigan had been injured on January 6 in an assault planned by the ex-husband of opponent Tonya Harding. Both skaters competed in the Games, but neither of them won the gold medal, which went to Oksana Baiul, who won Ukraine's first Olympic title.

For the first time, more than 2000 winter athletes competed in the 1998 Winter Olympics, held in the Japanese city of Nagano. Two new sports were conducted—snowboarding and curling—while women's ice hockey was also included. The men's ice hockey tournament was open to all players for the first time, making Canada and the United States favourites for the gold with their many NHL professionals. However, neither nation medalled, losing to the Czech Republic. Speed skating saw a wave of new world records thanks to the use of the revolutionary clap skate.

Recent years

Olympic flame at Rice-Eccles Olympic Stadium during the opening ceremonies.
Olympic flame at Rice-Eccles Olympic Stadium during the opening ceremonies.

The 19th Olympic Winter Games were held in Salt Lake City, Utah, United States. Prior to the opening of the Games, it was found that Salt Lake organisers had bribed several IOC members in order to be elected. This resulted in a change of the host city election procedures and several IOC members resigned or were punished. Again, the programme was expanded. Skeleton made its return on the Olympic podium after 54 years, while new events were added in biathlon, bobsleigh, cross-country skiing, Nordic combined and short track speed skating.

The Olympic Games in Salt Lake City were also the first Olympics since September 11, 2001, which meant Olympic games since then required a higher level of security to avoid any terrorist attack. During the opening ceremonies, Dr. Jacques Rogge, presiding over his first Olympics as IOC president, told the athletes of the host country that their nation was overcoming the "horrific tragedy" of that day and the IOC stands united with them in promoting the committee's ideals.

The Salt Lake City Olympics had many stars. Ole Einar Bjørndalen won all four biathlon events, while Samppa Lajunen took all three Nordic combined medals. Croatia's Janica Kostelić won four medals in alpine skiing, of which three were gold. Simon Ammann won both individual ski jumping events, while Georg Hackl won his fifth consecutive medal in the same event (luge singles), a feat never before achieved by any Olympian. In speed skating, the high altitude of the skating rink assured several new world records. Jochem Uytdehaage broke three world records, winning two golds and a silver; Claudia Pechstein won the 5000 m for the third time in a row, while also winning the 3000 m. The women's short track speed skating events saw China win its first two Winter Olympic golds, both by Yang Yang (A). Canadians jubilated as both their men's and their women's hockey teams defeated the United States to win the gold; the men's team thus ended a gold medal drought that had lasted 50 years to the day.

The United Kingdom won their first Winter Olympic gold medal since 1984; the ladies Curling team springing a surprise result by beating the highly favoured Swiss in the gold medal match.

The men's 1000 m short track event saw one of the unlikeliest results in sports history. Australian Steven Bradbury, who would have been eliminated in the quarterfinals but for the disqualification of Marc Gagnon, advanced to the final when three of the four other competitors in his semifinal crashed out on the final lap. In the final, Bradbury was fifth going into the final lap, when another collision left him the last man standing. Bradbury was able to avoid the pileup, becoming the first Winter Olympic gold medallist from the Southern Hemisphere. Many Australians saw this as a painfully humorous example of the country's struggle for competitiveness in winter sports, being that it took for all other competitors to crash for an Aussie to win. The phrase "to do a Bradbury" has since entered the Australian lexicon meaning to succeed through the failure of others. Alisa Camplin won Australia's second gold medal in freestyle skiing without the need for such incredible luck.

A major scandal evolved around the pair figure skating contest. Canadians Jamie Salé and David Pelletier initially placed second. However, it was decided that a French jury member had favoured the winning Russian pair, and the IOC and the International Skating Union decided to award both pairs the gold medal, after much discussion. Combined with several other referee decisions that came out negatively for Russian athletes, there was a brief threat by the Russians of withdrawing from the Games.

The scandal also resulted in a change to the scoring system used for figure skating events. Previously each judge posted their mark and an average score was taken. The new regulations keep individual judges decisions secret. Also the highest and lowest scores for each competitor is dropped, in the hopes that this will eliminate any sort of bias by judges.

Cross-country skiers accounted for a second scandal, as Johann Mühlegg (Spain) and Olga Danilova and Larissa Lazutina (both Russia), who had already medalled in earlier events, were shown to have used doping. As of 2004 they had all been officially stripped of all medals won at the 2002 Games.

The Italian city of Turin ("Torino" in Italian) hosted the 2006 Winter Olympics. It was the second time Italy hosted the Winter Olympic Games, after Cortina d'Ampezzo in 1956. The opening ceremonies for the Olympics were the last ones to be held outdoors for a Winter Olympics until the 2014 Winter Olympics because the ones for the 2010 Winter Olympics will be held indoors. To this date, Turin is the largest city ever to host a Winter Olympics.

The future

In a 2003 IOC vote, the 2010 Winter Olympics were awarded to Vancouver, thus allowing Canada to host its second Winter Olympics as well as being the first for the province of British Columbia. Vancouver will be the largest city to host a Winter Olympics, with a population of more than 2.4 million people in the greater Vancouver metropolitan area.

Locations of the Winter Olympics
Locations of the Winter Olympics

The host city for 2014 was narrowed down to three cities, on June 22, 2006, and the final decision for the 2014 Winter Olympics was made on July 4, 2007 in Guatemala City when Sochi, Russia was elected as the host city over the other two finalists: Salzburg, Austria and PyeongChang, Republic of Korea. PyeongChang lost by four votes.

As evidenced by the growing audience worldwide and increasing rights fees, the Winter Olympic games are gaining in popularity within countries that do not have a strong winter sports tradition (such as Brazil or Mexico). As a result of its global appeal, it seems likely that international participation in the Winter Olympics will also increase.


Through the years, the number of sports and events conducted at the Winter Olympic Games has increased. Demonstration sports, in which contests were held but for which no medals were awarded, have also taken place.

Current sport disciplines

  • Alpine skiing was first included in 1936. The current programme features 10 events, with both men and women skiing the downhill, super G, giant slalom, slalom and combined events.
  • Biathlon was first included in 1960, although the very similar military patrol was contested in 1924. Only a single individual event for men was included in 1960, but events have been added over the years. Women first participated in 1992. At present there are 5 events, conducted by both men and women: the sprint (10 km (men) /7.5 km (women)), the individual (20 km (men) /15 km (women)), the pursuit (12.5 km (men) /10 km (women)), the relay (4 x 7.5 km) and the mass start (15 km (men) /12.5 km (women)).
  • Bobsleigh has been included since 1924, although it was not held in 1960. The four-man event has been held since 1924, the two-man event was added in 1932. Women didn't compete until 2002, when the two-woman race was included.
Image:Cross country skiing 2006.gif
  • Cross-country skiing has always been on the Olympic programme. The number of events has steadily grown over the years, being 12 in 2006: sprint, team sprint, pursuit (30 km for men, 15 km for women), 10 km (women), 15 km (men), 30 km (women), 50 km (men), relay (4 x 10 km (men), 4 x 5 km (women)).
  • Curling at the Winter Olympics was on the programme in 1924, but disappeared afterwards. It was demonstrated in 1932, 1988 and 1992, to be officially included in 1998. Since then, separate tournaments for men and women have been held.
  • Figure skating was the first winter sport to be included in the Olympics, appearing in the programme of the Summer Olympics in 1908 and 1920. The single events for men and women, and the pairs contest have been on the programme since 1908, ice dancing was first included in 1976. The special figures event for men was only conducted in 1908.
  • Freestyle skiing was first demonstrated in three disciplines in 1988. The moguls event became Olympic in 1992, while ballet and aerials remained a demonstration event. The aerials also received official status in 1994. Both events are held for men and women.
  • Ice hockey was already held at the 1920 Summer Olympics, and has been played in every celebration of the Winter Games. A women's tournament was first conducted in 1998.
  • Luge first entered the Olympic programme in 1964, and the three events conducted then are still unchanged. It included a singles event for both men and women, and a doubles event. The latter is technically open for both men and women, but in practice, only men compete.
  • Nordic combined, a combination of ski jumping and cross-country skiing, has been Olympic since 1924. Until 1988, when a team event was added, there was only an individual event. A third event, the sprint, made its debut in 2002. Only men compete in this sport.
  • Short track speed skating was a demonstration sport in 1988, and was included as a full sport four years later. The programme was expanded from 4 in 1992 to 8 in 2002. The events are the same for both men and women: 500 m, 1000 m, 1500 m and the relay (5000 m (men) /3000 m (women)).
  • Skeleton was included in both Olympics held in St. Moritz (1928 and 1948), the birthplace of the sport. It was not held again until it was included again in 2002, with individual events for both men and women.
  • Ski jumping has been an Olympic sport since 1924, with the large hill event contested. A second event (normal hill) was introduced in 1964, and a team event followed in 1988. To date, this sport is only contested by men in the Olympics.
  • Snowboarding was first contested at the 1998 Olympics, with giant slalom and halfpipe events for both genders. The giant slalom was replaced by a parallel giant slalom for 2002, and in 2006, the snowboard cross event was added.
  • Speed skating has been on the programme since 1924. Women's events were not included until 1960, although they were demonstrated in 1932 and had been on the preliminary programme for 1940. Current events are the 500 m, 1000 m, 1500 m, 3000 m (women only), 5000 m and 10000 m (men only). The all-round competition was only contested in 1924. The team pursuit event made its debut in 2006.

Discontinued sports or disciplines

  • Military patrol, a precursor to the biathlon, was a medal sport in 1924. It was also demonstrated in 1928, 1936 and 1948, and in 1960 biathlon became an official sport.
  • The special figures figure skating event was only contested at the 1908 Summer Olympics.

Demonstration events

  • Bandy, a sport briefly described as "ice hockey with a ball", very popular in the Nordic countries, was demonstrated in 1952.
  • Ice stock sport, or eisstockschießen, a German variant to curling was demonstrated in 1936 and 1964.
  • Ski ballet, later known as ski-acro, was demonstrated in 1988 and 1992. The sport has significantly declined in popularity in recent years. FIS ceased all formal competition of the sport after 2000.
  • Skijöring, skiing behind dogs, was a demonstration sport in St. Moritz 1928.
  • Sled-dog racing contests were displayed in Lake Placid 1932.
  • Speed skiing (1992)
  • Winter pentathlon, a variant to the modern pentathlon, was included as a demonstration event in 1948. It was composed of cross country skiing, shooting, downhill skiing, fencing and horse riding.

List of Winter Olympic Games

Year Games Location
1924 I Olympic Winter Games Flag of France Chamonix, France
1928 II Olympic Winter Games Flag of Switzerland St. Moritz, Switzerland
1932 III Olympic Winter Games Flag of the United States Lake Placid, New York, United States
1936 IV Olympic Winter Games Flag of Germany Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany
1948 V Olympic Winter Games Flag of Switzerland St. Moritz, Switzerland
1952 VI Olympic Winter Games Flag of Norway Oslo, Norway
1956 VII Olympic Winter Games Flag of Italy Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy
1960 VIII Olympic Winter Games Flag of the United States Squaw Valley, California, United States
1964 IX Olympic Winter Games Flag of Austria Innsbruck, Austria
1968 X Olympic Winter Games Flag of France Grenoble, France
1972 XI Olympic Winter Games Flag of Japan Sapporo, Japan
1976 XII Olympic Winter Games Flag of Austria Innsbruck, Austria
1980 XIII Olympic Winter Games Flag of the United States Lake Placid, New York, United States
1984 XIV Olympic Winter Games Flag of Yugoslavia Sarajevo, Yugoslavia
1988 XV Olympic Winter Games Flag of Canada Calgary, Alberta, Canada
1992 XVI Olympic Winter Games Flag of France Albertville, France
1994 XVII Olympic Winter Games Flag of Norway Lillehammer, Norway
1998 XVIII Olympic Winter Games Flag of Japan Nagano, Japan
2002 XIX Olympic Winter Games Flag of the United States Salt Lake City, Utah, United States
2006 XX Olympic Winter Games Flag of Italy Turin, Italy
2010 XXI Olympic Winter Games Flag of Canada Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
2014 XXII Olympic Winter Games Flag of Russia Sochi, Russia

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