Winter Olympics: History of the Winter Olympics
Winter Olympics: History of the Winter Olympics

From Chamonix 1924 to now -- 94 years and 23 editions of the Winter Olympic Games. Check out the history of the Winter Olympics.

The first Winter Olympics in Chamonix in the French Alps. During the Second World War two Winter Olympiads were cancelled, while the last Winter Olympiad before the war were held in Garmisch-Patenkirchen under Nazi rule.

On 25 January 1924, the first Olympic Winter Games got under way at the French resort of Chamonix, coiled at the foot of the imposing Mont Blanc, the highest summit of the Alps.

For 12 days, 258 athletes (245 men & 13 women) tested their speed and mastery on snow and ice. From Chamonix 1924 to now -- 94 years and 23 editions of the Winter Games.

We look at the origins of Olympic events in the cold season.

Winter sports come of age

In June 1921, the International Olympic Committee (IOC), meeting in Lausanne for its 20th Session, awarded its patronage to a winter sports week that would take place in Chamonix in 1924. This event would subsequently be renamed the "first Olympic Winter Games".

It showed the IOC's desire to respond to the boom in winter sports, which were getting organised into federations on an international level, such as skating with the International Skating Union (1892), or ice hockey with the International Ice Hockey League (1908). But before Chamonix, figure skating and ice hockey had already made an appearance at the Games, in London in 1908 for the first time, and in Antwerp in 1920 for the second.

From 1924 onwards (Chamonix and Paris) the Winter and Summer Games were held in the same year until 1992 (Albertville and Barcelona). Then, a two-year interval was introduced, but the Summer Games and Winter Games continue to be held every four years respectively.

A programme in tune with the latest trends

On the programme of the Chamonix Games were six sports with 16 events -- military patrol (the precursor of biathlon), bobsleigh, curling, ice hockey, skating and skiing, compared to seven sports -- with the addition of luge - and 86 events in Vancouver and now 15 sports and 102 events in PyeongChang for the 2018 Winter Olympics. This increase echoes the development of winter sports, and can be explained by the arrival of new disciplines, such as Alpine skiing in Garmisch-Partenkirchen in 1936, or, more recently, the inclusion of ski-cross in Vancouver.

Growing Participation

From their first edition in Chamonix in 1924 up to now the Winter Games have become universal. Delegations from 16 European countries and North America were present at the first Winter Olympics in Chamonix. Asia made its first appearance at the Olympic winter celebrations in 1928 in St Moritz; Oceania in 1936 in Garmisch-Partenkirchen; and Africa in 1960 in Squaw Valley.

Winter Olympics: Participating Athletes by Gender from 1924 to 2014

Year Winter Olympiad Men Women
2002Salt Lake City1,513886
1980Lake Placid839233
1960Squaw Valley521144
1956Cortina d'Ampezzo689132
1948St. Moritz59277
1932Lake Placid22032
1928St. Moritz43727

The First Olympic Winter Champions

The sports equipment and techniques of the athletes present in Chamonix are now antiques, but their feats remain well and truly part of the history of the Games. Thus, the first male and female Olympic champions were both skaters: American Charles Jewtraw and Austrian Herma Szabo-Plank.

Different times, different performances: five-time medal winner in Chamonix, Finland's Clas Thunberg won the 1,500m speed skating outdoors in 2:20.80. In Turin, in the Lingotto Oval and on "clap skates", the winner of the same event, Italy's Enrico Fabris, came first in 1:45.97, a time to beat in Vancouver.

1924 Chamonix, France

Participation: 16 National Olympic Committees (NOCs), 258 athletes (11 women, 247 men), 16 events, 6 sports

This "International Winter Sports Week" was retroactively named the first Olympic Winter Games at the 24th IOC Session held in Lisbon in 1926. The decision to create a separate cycle for the Winter Games was taken at the 1925 Session in Prague. Charles Jewtraw (USA) was the first Olympic champion in the history of the Winter Games.

1928 Saint Moritz, Switzerland

Participation: 25 NOCs, 464 athletes (26 women, 438 men), 14 events, 4 sports

Since the Netherlands, which were hosting the Amsterdam Games, were unable to organize the Winter Games, Switzerland proposed three candidatures and the Games were awarded to Saint Moritz. The Games were limited to eight days, including two Sundays, and some events were disrupted by bad weather. For the first time, an Asian delegation (from Japan) participated in the Winter Games.

1932 Lake Placid, United States

Participation: 17 NOCs, 252 athletes (21 women, 231 men) 14 events, 4 sports

These were the first Winter Games to be held in North America. Lake Placid, a small town in the north-eastern United States, organised this third edition despite the economic depression. Formal ceremonies were held for the first time, with medals presented to athletes on a podium after the events. These Games were also notable for some inclement weather and disagreements between Americans and Europeans concerning the rules of speed skating. A female athlete carried her delegation's flag -- that of Great Britain -- at the opening ceremony.

1936 Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany

Participation: 28 NOCs, 646 athletes (80 women, 566 men), 17 events, 4 sports

For the first time, an Olympic flame burned in the city during the Games, although it was not lit by an athlete. This edition saw the introduction of Alpine skiing to the programme, as well as radio reporters who covered the events from the sidelines. This edition of the Winter Games was the first to have its own official film.

1948 Saint Moritz, Switzerland

Participation: 28 NOCs (nations), 669 athletes (77 women, 592 men), 22 events, 4 sports

After a 12-year break caused by the Second World War, these V Games were called the "Games of Renewal". Neither Japan nor Germany were invited to Switzerland, the memories of the war being too fresh. By hosting this fifth edition, the resort in Haute Engadine became the first city to organise the Winter Games twice. As in 1928, the accommodation was spread between the two parts of the village: Saint Moritz Dorf and Saint Moritz Bad.

1952 Oslo, Norway

Participation: 30 NOCs, 694 athletes (109 women, 585 men), 22 events, 4 sports

The first edition of the Winter Games to be hosted in Scandinavia, birthplace of numerous winter disciplines, broke new ground in many ways. In particular, the Olympic flame lighting ceremony, which took place in the hearth of the home of Sondre Norheim, a pioneer of modern skiing. The final torch bearer was the grandson of Nansen, the famous polar explorer. This edition was the first Winter Games to be held in a capital and on the coast. It was also the first time the Olympic Games had been opened by a woman.

1956 Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy

Participation: 32 NOCs, 821 athletes (134 women, 687 men), 24 events, 4 sports

Four years before hosting the Summer Games in Rome, Italy staged the Winter Games in Cortina d'Ampezzo, a resort in the Dolomites. For the first time, the Games were televised live and TV viewers were able to watch a female athlete light the Olympic cauldron. The flame had been lit at the Capitol in Rome. The 1956 Winter Games were notable for the presence of Soviet athletes, who enjoyed numerous successes and retained an air of mystery by choosing separate accommodation from that of the other delegations. They brought an end to the Canadian domination of ice hockey and dominated the speed skating events, while Pavel Kolchin became the first non- Scandinavian to win a cross-country skiing medal. Alpine skier Toni Sailer also achieved an outstanding feat by winning the downhill, giant slalom and slalom events. In figure skating, American Tenley Albright was crowned Olympic champion even though she had been seriously injured only two weeks before the Games. As for the men, Hayes Alan Jenkins stood at the top of an all-American podium. Switzerland's Madeleine Berthod won the women's downhill on her birthday.

1960 Squaw Valley, United States

Participation: 30 NOCs, 665 athletes (144 women, 521 men), 27 events, 4 sports

These Games were notable for the invention of a technology which revolutionized sports broadcasting: the slow-motion replay. Following the IOC's decision in 1958 to officially approve the Olympic anthem by Spiros Samaras and Kostis Palamas, a version by Robert Linn, with the words translated into English by Basil Swift, was performed at the opening ceremony.

1964 Innsbruck, Austria

Participation: 36 NOCs, 1,091 athletes (199 women, 892 men), 34 events, 6 sports

When the Games were held in Innsbruck, Austria became the last of the Alpine countries to host the Games (although Innsbruck is in a valley rather than a ski resort). For this occasion, the Tyrolean capital built an Olympic village, a brand new accommodation complex based on the Summer Games model, as well as a smaller village in Seefeld for the athletes involved in the Nordic competitions. For the first time, the competition venues were spread across a number of different towns and it was also the first time the Olympic flame was lit in Olympia. Timing to a hundredth of a second was introduced in Alpine skiing.

1968 Grenoble, France

Participation: 37 NOCs, 1,158 athletes (211 women, 947 men), 35 events, 6 sports.

Television viewers were able to watch colour broadcasts of the 1968 Games. Whereas in 1964 the luge and bobsleigh runs had been built virtually side by side, this time they were at two different resorts several dozen kilometres apart. After Switzerland and the United States, France became the third country to host the Winter Games three times. It was the first time Grenoble had been a candidate. This was also the first time the IOC Medical Commission carried out doping controls at the Olympic Games.

1972 Sapporo Japan

Participation: 35 NOCs, 1,006 athletes (205 women, 801 men), 35 events, 6 sports

This second edition of the Games to be held on the coast and the first in an Asian country was notable for the increasingly urgent question of the amateurism of athletes. At the sporting level, these Games saw some outstanding performances, such as the Japanese ski jumping treble, the individual trebles of Soviet Kulakova in cross-country skiing and Dutchman Ard Schenk in speed skating, and the Alpine skiing gold medal won by Spaniard Ochoa (the only Winter Games gold won by a Spaniard).

1976 Innsbruck, Austria

After Denver (USA), which had been awarded the Games, pulled out, the IOC approached the other candidate cities and asked Innsbruck to organise this edition.The Austrian city used its existing sports facilities, but also had to build a new track for the sled sports in Igls. For the first time, these two sports were held on the same track. In order to mark Innsbruck's second edition of the Games, organised 12 years after the first, two Olympic cauldrons were lit. They can still be admired at the foot of the ski-jump on the Bergisel, which dominates the city.

1980 Lake Placid, United States

Participation: 37 NOCs, 1,072 athletes (232 women, 840 men), 38 events, 6 sports, 6,703 volunteers

Lake Placid has submitted more bids (eight) to host the Olympic Winter Games than any other city. After Saint Moritz and Innsbruck, it became the third city to organise the Winter Games twice, but this time after a gap of 48 years. In order to overcome a lack of snow, the organisers used artificial snow for the first time. Many outstanding sporting feats were achieved at these Games, although the Olympic village, situated less than 6 km from the centre, was the first to be converted into a prison.

1984 Sarajevo, Yugoslavia

Participation: 49 NOCs, 1,272 athletes (274 women, 998 men), 39 events, 6 sports, 10,450 volunteers, 7,393 media (2,363 written press, 5,030 broadcasters).

After the Alps, the Appalachians, the Rockies, the Baltic Shield and the Japanese Alps, the Winter Games were held in the Dinarides (or Balkan Alps), in a semi-Socialist (non-aligned) country. The Games in Sarajevo, which is now the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina, marked the beginning of a new economic era for sport, with the development of television broadcasting rights.

1988 Calgary, Canada

Participation: 57 NOCs, 1,423 athletes (301 women, 1,122 men), 46 events, 6 sports, 9,498 volunteers, 6,838 media (2,477 written press, 4,361 broadcasters)

The city of Alberta organised the first Winter Games to be held in Canada, with the Vancouver Games to come in 2010. In order to avoid the disastrous effects of the Chinook (a warm wind similar to the Alpine foehn), snow cannons were placed along the Alpine ski runs and the cross-country skiing tracks. The facilities at the Canada Olympic Park (sled sports track, ski-jump), built on the edge of the city, were for a long time the only facilities of this type in this part of North America and enabled athletes to train and practise. Curling, shorttrack speed skating and freestyle skiing all featured on the programme as demonstration sports and disciplines.

1992 Albertville, Savoie

Participation: 64 NOCs, 1,801 athletes (488 women, 1,313 men), 57 events, 7 sports, 8,647 volunteers, 5,894 media (2,271 written press, 3,623 broadcasters)

This third edition of the Winter Games to be held in France used the very dense network of winter sports resorts in the Tarentaise valley. This meant that accommodation was available for all categories of people participating in or wishing to watch the Games. For the first time, the Olympic village was not located in or adjacent to the host city, but in the thermal spa of Brides-les Bains, 32 km away. Albertville only hosted the skating events and ceremonies. As far as the delegations were concerned, these Games saw a number of firsts. The countries that made up the former USSR competed under the name Unified Team (EUN), while Croatia and Slovenia participated for the first time as independent nations. A unified German team participated for the first time since 1936, while the Baltic states (Estonia and Latvia) entered for the first time since 1936 and 1928 respectively.

1994 Lillehammer, Norway

Participation: 67 NOCs, 1,737 athletes (522 women, 1,215 men), 61 events, 6 sports, 9,054 volunteers, 6,633 media (2,615 written press, 4,018 broadcasters)

The Lillehammer Games marked a turning point in the history of the Winter Olympics. Firstly, because they were held two years after the Albertville Games in order to separate them from the Summer Games, but particularly because they were organised under the banner of total respect for the environment. This edition was also a public success and was notable for architectural feats such as the Gjøvik ice stadium, which was dug out of a cave, and the one in Hamar, shaped like an upside-down Viking ship

1998 Nagano, Japan

Participation: 72 NOCs, 2,176 athletes (787 women, 1,389 men), 68 events, 7 sports, 32,000 volunteers, 8,329 media (2,586 written press, 5,743 broadcasters).

Japan hosted the Winter Games for the second time. Azerbaijan, Kenya, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Uruguay and Venezuela participated in the Olympic Winter Games for the first time. Curling returned to the Games programme, while snowboarding and women's ice hockey featured for the first time. Like previous Games, this edition focussed on environmental protection and the use of technology to protect nature. Curling, snowboarding and women's ice hockey were included in the programme; all these sports were open to women.

2002 Salt Lake City, United States

Participation: 77 NOCs, 2,399 athletes (886 women, 1,513 men), 78 events, 7 sports, 22,000 volunteers, 8,730 media (2,661 written press, 6,069 broadcasters)

The fourth edition of the Olympic Winter Games to be held in the United States took place on the shores of the Great Salt Lake which gave its name to Salt Lake City, capital of Utah. Most competition venues were situated high up in the Wasatch Mountains. The cross- country skiing event was held at the maximum altitude permitted by the International Ski Federation, while the Salt Lake ice rink was one of the highest in the world. The skeleton made a return to the Games programme after the two editions in Saint Moritz. Meanwhile, the bobsleigh was opened to women in 2002, leaving ski jumping and the Nordic combined as the only single-sex winter disciplines. There were numerous firsts at these Games: the first medals ever won in Winter Games history by Estonia and Croatia, and the first gold medals for China and Australia.

2006 Turin, Italy

Participation: 80 NOCs, 2,508 athletes (960 women, 1,548 men), 84 events, 7 sports, 18,000 volunteers, 9,408 media representatives (2,688 written press, 6,720 broadcasters)

Fifty years after the Games of Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy hosted the Winter Games for a second time, in the city of Turin, capital of the Piedmont region. The Alpine events took place to the west of the city in the resorts of Val di Suza and Val di Chisone, near the French border. These Games were the occasion for the general public to discover new events, such as snowboard cross, team speed skating races and biathlon group start. With a record 80 NOCs participating, these Games included athletes from Albania, Madagascar and Ethiopia participating for the first time. Latvia won the first Winter medal in its history. France won its first medal in cross country skiing, and Finland its first medal in Alpine skiing.

2010 Vancouver, Canada

Dates : 12 to 28 February 2010

Participation: 82 NOCs, 2,566 Athletes (1,044 women, 1,522 men), 86 Events, 7 sports, 10,000 media


Ilanaaq the Inukshuk. Inukshuks were created for centuries by the peoples of the Canadian north to act as guideposts across the vast terrains of snow and ice. The Inukshuks were rocks that were stacked in such a way as to create human forms. They were of different sizes and each stone in the form was necessary to support the others. Their creators used them in many different ways, such as to indicate directions to shelter, for hunting and to locate fishing areas. The word Ilanaaq is the Inuit word for friend and this represents the friendly spirit and soul of Canada.


The three Vancouver 2010 mascots are distinct and special, both in terms of their personalities and in their physical appearance. Quatchi is a big, gentle and shy sasquatch. Miga is a small, mischievous and outgoing "sea bear". Sumi, an animal guardian spirit, is a natural-born leader with a passion for protecting the environment. All three are mythical creatures inspired by local geography and legend. Quatchi and Miga will represent the Olympic Games and Sumi will represent the Paralympic Games, but they will all work together as a team.

Olympic venues:

Vancouver (curling, ice hockey, figure skating, short track speed skating, opening and closing ceremonies, medals ceremonies), Richmond (speed skating), Cypress Mountain (snowboard and freestyle skiing).Whistler Olympic Park (biathlon, cross country skiing, Nordic combined, ski jumping), Whistler Creekside (alpine skiing), The Whistler Sliding Centre (luge, skeleton, bobsleigh) Whistler (medals presentation ceremonies).

2010 Vancouver Olympic Winter Games Montage

2014 Sotchi, Russia

Dates: 7 to 23 February 2014


88 NOCs, 2,800 Athletes (1,000 women, 1,800 men), 98 Events, 15 sports, 10,000 media

Six countries participated for the first time in the Olympic Winter Games -- Malta, Paraguay, Timor Leste, Togo, Tonga and Zimbabwe.

Twelve new events were contested: team figure skating, luge relay, biathlon mixed relay, women's ski jumping, snowboard and ski slopestyle (men and women), ski half-pipe (men and women) and snowboard parallel slalom (men and women).


The notions of simplicity and modernity are at the root of the design of the official emblem for the Games in Sochi. For the first time, there was no image or drawn elements but rather a typographical exercise, featuring the novel inclusion of the internet address on the first line of text. Below, the figure 2014 next to the Olympic rings vertically mirrors the letters of the word Sochi.

"To prove our commitment to innovation, the Sochi 2014 emblem is clearly digital", explained Dmitry Chernyshenko, President of the Organising Committee for the XXII Olympic Winter Games. "Today we welcome tomorrow. Our emblem challenges people to look beyond what they expect from our country. We believe can become an international symbol of a sporting, social, economic and environmental legacy that lasts for generations."


The Hare, the Polar Bear and the Leopard. The mascots for the Olympic Games were selected after a contest that was first held across the whole of Russia, then internationally. Some 24,048 drawings were received in total. Ten proposals were chosen by a jury of experts for the second phase of the contest. Professional designers then worked on them to reveal their final shape.

Olympic venues:

The Games were organised in two clusters: a coastal cluster for ice events in Sochi, and a mountain cluster located in the Krasnaya Polyana Mountains. This made it one of the most compact Games ever, with around 30 minutes travel time from the coastal to mountain cluster.

The Sochi Olympic Park was built along the Black Sea coast in the Imeretinskaya Valley, where all the ice venues such as the Bolshoi Ice Palace, the Maly Ice Palace, the Olympic Oval, the Sochi Olympic Skating Centre, the Olympic Curling Centre, the Central Stadium, the Main Olympic Village and the International Broadcast Centre and Main Press Centre, had been built anew for the 2014 Games. The Park ensured a very compact concept with an average distance of 6km between the Olympic Village and the other coastal venues.

The mountain cluster in Krasnaya Polyana was home to all the skiing and sliding sports. The mountain concept was again a very compact one with only an average distance of 4km between the mountain sub-village and the venues. There was also a sub-media centre in the mountain cluster.

2014 Sochi Olympic Winter Games Montage

Source: IOC (

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