A Winter Olympic Games retrospective | PostIndependent.com

A Winter Olympic Games retrospective

Hal Sundin
Post Independent
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
As I See It

The evolution of the Winter Olympic Games from their humble beginnings to the super spectacle they have become in 2010 is phenomenal.

The first Winter Olympics, held in Chamonix, France, in early 1925 (designated as the 1924 Winter Games to coincide with the quadrennial Summer Games) attracted 258 competitors from 16 countries in 15 events: four speedskating races, four Nordic events (cross-country and ski jumping), figure skating (men’s, women’s and pairs), bobsledding, ice hockey and two “military patrol” events (probably precursors of the biathlon). The current 21st Winter Olympics has some 2,500 participants from 82 countries competing in 86 events.

Noticeably absent from the first three Winter Games are events for women (their participation was limited to women’s and pairs figure skating) and Alpine skiing. In the 1936 Winter Olympics, at Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, the first Alpine skiing event appeared (combined downhill and slalom), which also broke new ground by having women’s as well as men’s competition in that event.

After a 12-year hiatus due to World War II, the Winter Olympic Games resumed in 1948 at St. Moritz, Switzerland, with Alpine skiing playing a prominent role for the first time. From merely sliding downhill on long boards, the introduction of turning techniques had greatly enhanced the popularity of downhill skiing in the 1920s and early 1930s. And with the development of ski areas incorporating modes of uphill transportation specifically designed for the sport, downhill skiing rapidly gained in popularity. In the years following World War II, the popularity of downhill skiing grew rapidly, in this country due largely to the enthusiasm and dedication to the sport of the returning veterans of the 10th Mountain Division.

Succeeding Winter Olympic Games saw an expansion of the number of sports included in the games and the inclusion of women’s competitions in nearly all sports. Women’s cross-country skiing events were added in 1952 and 1956, and further expanded in 1964, 1992 and 1994. Five women’s speedskating events were included in 1960, and women’s hockey in 1998.

The extremely popular artistry of ice dancing made its Olympic debut in 1976. Crowd-pleasing action and acrobatic events have been added in every Winter Olympic Games since 1992. Fast-and-furious short-track speedskating debuted in 1992, and mogul freestyle skiing was added in 1992, and aerials in 1994. Snowboarding was introduced in 1998 with giant slalom and halfpipe events, with head-to-head snowboardcross added in 2006. Head-to-head skicross appears for the first time in this year’s Winter Olympics. All of these events added since 1992 have included both men’s and women’s competitions.

The advances in skills and performance since the early Winter Games, and particularly over the past 20 years, is astounding, but there are some changes that are less admirable. The original concept of the Olympic Games, both summer and winter, was that they were for amateur, not professional, athletes, as individuals, not as national teams. But it did not take long for nationalism to take over, with Adolph Hitler attempting to use the 1936 summer and winter games (both held in Nazi Germany) as a display of “Aryan superiority” by using state-sponsored athletes. This was carried to an extreme in the Cold War years by the “sports factories” of the Soviet Union and East Germany, forcing the rest of the world to turn to professional athletes in order to remain competitive. Another disturbing trend is the exploding cost of the games, from a very modest sum in 1924 to several billion dollars in 2010 – at least a 10,000-fold increase.

But there is one thing that remains constant. No amount of money can control the weather. In both the 1924 and 2010 Winter Olympics, abnormally warm weather created major problems for the outdoor events.

– Glenwood Springs resident Hal Sundin’s column runs every other Thursday in the Post Independent.

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