Jewtraw becomes first-ever Winter Games champion

As the winner of the 500m speed skating competition on the morning of Saturday 26 January, Charles Jewtraw (USA) had the honour of becoming the first gold medallist of the Olympic Winter Games. Jewtraw was a native of Lake Placid, the American village renowned for its frozen lakes, which would itself host two Winter Games, in 1932 and 1980.

Speed skiing
Picture by IOC

Born in 1900, Jewtraw has already made his name in his homeland, triumphing at the US National Championships in 1921 and 1923 and setting an American record of 9.4 seconds over 100 yards. However, in Chamonix, versus several highly fancied Scandinavian skaters, he was not viewed as one of the favourites. Finland’s Clas Thunberg, who had been training in Davos prior to arriving in France, and who would establish a 500m world record of 42.80 in the Swiss town five years later, was strongly fancied, but this was not to be his day.

Norway’s Oskar Olsen (44.20) took silver, while his compatriot Roald Larsen shared the bronze with Thunberg (both 44.80).

Jewtraw competed in two further events in Chamonix – finishing eighth in the 1,500m and 13th in the 5,000m – before hanging up his skates and becoming a representative for a major sporting goods company in New York (USA). His success was an inspiration to many, including a young skater from Lake Placid, Jack Shea, who won two gold medals – in the 500m and 1,500m – at the 1932 Games.