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Thursday, February 5, 1998 Published at 16:00 GMT

Sport: Winter Olympics 98

History of the winter olympics
image: [ Bobsleds were invented by lashing together two toboggans ]
Bobsleds were invented by lashing together two toboggans

The Winter Games are part of an Olympic tradition that goes back 3,000 years.

But they were slow in getting off the ground, with the first official Winter Olympics not taking place until 1924.

[ image: Figure skating contests predate the Winter Olympics]
Figure skating contests predate the Winter Olympics
It was felt that winter sports, dependent as they are on snow, ice and cold weather, gave an unfair advantage to countries with cold climates, where skiing and skating are often normal parts of life.

For their part the Scandinavians feared that the Winter Olympics would threaten their own Nordic games, which had been held every four years since 1901.

But in 1924 the International Olympic Committee, IOC, organised an "International Sports Week". Scandinavian athletes won 28 out of the 43 medals, and the Nordic countries dropped their objections.

This event was retrospectively named the First Winter Olympic Games.

Despite many moments of glory over the years, bad weather, bickering and political boycotts have often interfered with what the IOC calls "the spirit of Olympism".

Olympics under the weather

Snow is of course a prerequisite for the Winter Olympics, but the weather has not always been obliging.

[ image: Weather didn't stop Torvill and Dean picking up 12 perfect sixes in 1984]
Weather didn't stop Torvill and Dean picking up 12 perfect sixes in 1984
Warm weather in St Moritz, Switzerland forced the cancellation of the 10,000m speed skating contest in the 1928 games. Then 18 hours of rain led to the postponement of an entire day's events.

In the 1932 games in Lake Placid, the Americans were obliged to bus in snow from Canada, to the general mirth of the European countries.

Watch Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean's 1984 performance (4' 0")
By 1976 artificial snow was being used, but storms and strong winds continued to disrupt the games in Sarajevo in 1984 and in Calgary in 1988.

Bickering and boycotts

As different sports have been introduced to the Winter Games, and as the IOC has relaxed some of its rules and attitudes not all the changes have been smoothly accepted.

Cross-country or Nordic skiing was the main activity in the early games along with ice hockey, bobsleigh and figure skating.

Alpine skiing , which includes downhill and slalom, was not introduced until the 1936 Olympics in Germany. This led to a major controversy when the IOC ruled that ski instructors could not take part because they were professionals.

Austrian and Swiss skiers boycotted the events in protest.

[ image: Although opposed to the Olympic ideals, Adolf Hitler opened the 1936 games]
Although opposed to the Olympic ideals, Adolf Hitler opened the 1936 games
The German games also caused controversy because the Nazi regime tried to use them for propaganda purposes. The IOC President had to demand that all anti-Semitic posters and pamphlets be removed just the day before the opening.

The 1956 Winter Olympics was the first time that the Soviet Union participated. It won more medals than any other nation, but athletes have subsequently admitted that the Soviet authorities concealed the amount of professional training and state support they were receiving.

In protest at the perceived professionalism of the Soviets, the Canadian ice hockey team pulled out of the 1972 games in Japan.

In the same year the Austrian skier Karl Schranz was disqualified for allowing his name to be used for advertising purposes.

The IOC eventually realised that sponsorship had to be accepted, and changed the rules allowing professionals to reapply for amateur status. This allowed the British skaters Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean to perform again in 1994, after a decade of being unable to participate.

[ image: Eddie the Eagle enlivened the 1986 games with his bad jumping!]
Eddie the Eagle enlivened the 1986 games with his bad jumping!
The only national boycott of the Winter Olympics was by Taiwan in the 1980 games at Lake Placid. The IOC ruled that the country was not allowed to call itself "Republic of China".

The 1980 games were also an organisational disaster. The transport system was unable to cope with the volume of traffic, and many tickets were left unsold even though people wanted to buy them.

In response to concerns over the increasing costs and logistics of the Olympics, the IOC voted in 1986 to alter the schedule. Instead of being held in the same year as the Summer Olympics, they were now to be held two years after the Summer Games.

The Nagano games in Japan are the second Winter Olympics in the new schedule - after the 1994 games in Lillehammer, Norway.


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Winter Olympics 98 Contents

  Relevant Stories

04 Feb 98 | Sport
Nagano gears up for Winter Spectacular

  Internet Links

The Official Olympic Winter Games, Nagano 1998

Britannica Sporting Record - The Winter Games

The Ancient Olympics, Perseus Project

The Olympic Museum, Lausanne

International Olympic Committee

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