Look to the past: Why Anders Haugen had to wait 50 years to receive an Olympic medal

When American ski jumper Anders Haugen competed at the first Olympic Winter Games in Chamonix in 1924, he took fourth place. But 50 years later, Haugen, aged 86, would receive an Olympic bronze medal from the competition. 

By Indira Shestakova
Picture by Getty Images

There is no other Olympian in history who has waited so long for a medal. In 1974 Anders Haugen became the first American Olympic medalist in ski jumping, receiving a bronze medal for his performance at Chamonix 1924... 50 years earlier!

Haugen was born on 24 October 1888 in the small Norwegian town of Bo, near Oslo, where he started practising ski jumping as a child along with his brother Lars. When Haugen was 19, he emigrated to the USA, where his brothers and sister had previously moved. He settled in Illinois and then moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. In America, the Norwegian worked on a farm and became a bricklayer, but he did not forget about sports.

In Milwaukee, Haugen joined a local ski club; and in 1910 helped the club build a ski jump ramp near Lake Naghavicka in order to open ski jumping to the public of the area.

When the first competition was held there in January 1913, with Haugen winning gold, and more trophies soon followed. In fact, between 1910 and 1920, the Haugen brothers won the U.S. National Championships eleven times, with Anders setting two world record ski jumping distances in 1919 and 1920.

The athlete’s success led to his inclusion in the US team, and he was named captain of the ski team for the 1924 Olympics in Chamonix and at the 1928 Olympics in St Moritz. At both Olympics, he participated in ski jumping, cross-country skiing and Nordic combined. While the American struggled to come close to the podium in St Moritz, he was seemingly just a step away from the podium at the inaugural Winter Games in Chamonix, with the Norwegians sweeping the medals in the contest. Jacob Tullin Thams won gold, with Narve Bonna second and Thorleif Haug, who also won two golds in cross-country skiing and a gold in Nordic combined, finishing third. Anders Haugen did perform the longest jump in the normal hill event, but he made a mistake during the landing that dropped him to fourth place.

Despite there being some doubts about the final results at the time, no objections were raised.

Later, Haugen admitted that he had been confident of his bronze, but that he had had to accept the final decision of the judges.

"Protests and things like that weren’t common in those days. We took the placements we got. I’d been disappointed so many times, I tried not to think much about the episode," said Haugen, quoted by Skiing magazine.

Fifty years later, a participant in the competition in Chamonix, Thoralf Strømstad (NOR), drew the attention of sports historian Jacob Vaage to a potential mistake in the judges’ scoring protocols. Vaage double-checked the information and confirmed that the American had received the wrong scores.

Fortunately, Anders Haugen was still alive at that time. In 1929, he and his brother had moved to California, where he had helped develop the ski club on Lake Tahoe. Up until his 70s, he had directed the junior skiing program there. In 1974, the Norwegians arranged a trip for Anders to his home country, where the 86-year-old was awarded the Olympic bronze medal with all the appropriate honors and celebrations for such an event. The award was presented by Anna Marie Haug Magnussen, daughter of Thorleif Haug, who had died at the age of 40.

"If my father had lived, he would have been very happy to hand over this medal to you," said Haug's daughter, who hugged the new 1924 Chamonix bronze medallist tightly.

If the story had not been rewritten, the U.S. would still be without an Olympic medallist in ski jumping.

Anders Haugen had officially become an Olympic medallist at a very old age, but he lived to enjoy his new status for another 10 years. Haugen passed away in 1984 due to complications from kidney failure and prostate cancer, but until the end of his life, he was full of energy. According to the US Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame, Haugen, at age 91, still skied regularly in the San Bernardino Mountains near his home.

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