To mark Beijing 2022, the Olympic Agora is looking back in time to tell the epic story of the beginnings of Olympic Winter Games.
This curated selection of rare black-and-white photographs presents this history through the lens of groundbreaking sports photographers, who blended art, sport, aesthetics and technical mastery to capture immortal moments of winter sports.
From the first winter competitions held at London 1908, through to Chamonix 1924 and Grenoble 1968, these photographs from the photo archives of the Olympic Foundation for Culture and Heritage are being publicly displayed for the first time.
Welcome to “Nostalgia”.
London 1908 - Antwerp 1920
Winter Sports at the Olympic Summer Games
Yes, you read that correctly. Winter sports were on the programme of two editions of the Summer Games! At the 1908 Games in London (27 April to 31 October), figure skating competitions were held at the end of October. Florence “Madge” Syers was the first Olympic champion. --- Londres 1908 - Edgar et Florence Syers.
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A new Olympic sport
At the June 1914 Olympic Congress in Paris, ice hockey, skating and skiing officially became Olympic sports. They could be “optionally” included in the programme of future Games. The 1920 Games in Antwerp held both figure skating and ice hockey. The competitions began at the Ice Palace on 20 April. --- Antwerp 1920 -The USA ice hockey team.
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Chamonix, the first Host City of the Olympic Winter Games
Seeing the public’s growing interest in winter sports, plus the success of the ice events at London 1908 and Antwerp 1920, the IOC agreed to the creation of the Olympic Winter Games. In 1922, the IOC chose Chamonix as the first host. This news delighted the French IOC members. However, those from Scandinavian countries feared that this would devalue their Nordic Games. They refused to call the new event the Olympic Winter Games! The title of International Winter Sports Week was chosen as a compromise. It was in 1926, at its Session in Lisbon, that the IOC renamed International Sports Week the 1st Olympic Winter Games. --- Chamonix 1924 - Participants with their country's bobsleigh.
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A grand aerial Show
The organisers built a ski jump that allowed athletes to jump over 60 metres, a remarkable feat for the time. There was even room for up to 15,000 spectators! --- Chamonix 1924 - A competitor during the jumping event.
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A perilous rack
Chamonix can be proud of having built an extremely difficult bobsleigh track for the 1924 Games. It was 1,369.88 metres long, with 19 turns made of natural stones. The stones totalled 893 metres in length! The engineers responsible showed remarkable technical skill. The Des Myrtilles turn, for example, stood over six feet high! --- Chamonix 1924 - The big turn before the finish.
At the heart of the 1924 Chamonix Games was the 36,000 m2 ice complex, the largest in the world at the time. It was granted public interest status by the Presidential Decree of 22 January 1922. The complex had two ice hockey pitches, two figure skating rinks, a 400m speed skating oval, a curling rink, a track for skijoring (skiers towed by horses), a 1,000-seat stand and a sports hall! --- Chamonix 1924 - Andrée & Pierre Brunet (FRA) - Figure skating.
At the end of December 1923, 170 centimetres of snow fell in a single night! Volunteers were drafted in to clear it all off the ice – by hand for the 1924 Games. --- Chamonix 1924 - Snow clearing of the Olympic stadium.
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Private ice rinks
Owing to the bad weather, some of the 1928 St. Moritz figure skating events were held on the Kulm rink in the eponymous hotel, which, like many other establishments, had its own rink and curling sheets. --- St. Moritz 1928 - View of the village by Albert Steiner (1877-1965).
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Lake Placid 1932
A family donation
At the time, Lake Placid was a town with a population of fewer than 4,000 people. Faced with major obstacles to raise money in the midst of a depression, Mr Godfrey Dewey, President of the Organising Committee, donated a plot of land belonging to his family for the construction of the bobsleigh track. --- Lake Placid 1932 - Two-men bobsleigh, Reto Capadrutt & Oscar Geier (SUI) .
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Alpine Skiing as a new sport
Until 1932, the only sports on the Winter Games’ programme were bobsleigh, Nordic combined, ice hockey, figure and speed skating, and ski jumping. The introduction of Alpine skiing at Garmisch-Partenkirchen 1936 meant finding a slope, and thus a course to ski on. With the introduction of this new discipline, the number of teams at the Games increased. --- Garmisch-Partenkirchen 1936 - Gustav Lantscher (GER) - Alpine combined. --- The Games had been awarded to the German Weimar Republic in 1931, in the spirit of reconciliation. But by 1936, the Nazis had taken over the government. While the Games were technically well organised and many athletes inspired through their performances and stories, they were also exploited by Nazi propagandists.
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The photographic coverage of the Games drastically change with exceptional images of athletes in movement captured in close-up images and key competition moments, thanks to a special lens developed by Leica for its new camera for the 1936 Games. --- Garmisch-Partenkirchen 1936 - Gratia Schimmelpenninckvan Der Oije (NED) – Slalom --- The Games had been awarded to the German Weimar Republic in 1931, in the spirit of reconciliation. But by 1936, the Nazis had taken over the government. While the Games were technically well organised and many athletes inspired through their perfomances and stories, they were also exploited by Nazi propagandists.
In figure skating competitions at the 1936 Games, gracefulness was a very important criterion in the judges' scoring. --- Garmisch-Partenkirchen 1936 - Audrey Garland & Fraser Sweatman (CAN). Figure skating, training. --- The Games had been awarded to the German Weimar Republic in 1931, in the spirit of reconciliation. But by 1936, the Nazis had taken over the government. While the Games were technically well organised and many athletes inspired through their performances and stories, they were also exploited by Nazi propagandists.
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Works of photographer Erich Andres
Photograph by Erich Andres (1905-1992) from a series of photographs of the CAN-USA hockey final at the 1936 Games. It places his work in the tradition of the Russian constructivists (avant-garde movement of the 1920s), in particular, the photographic work of Aleksandr Rodchenko (1891-1956). --- Garmisch-Partenkirchen 1936 - Ice hockey, Final round, Men - Canada (CAN) 2nd - United States of America. --- The Games had been awarded to the German Weimar Republic in 1931, in the spirit of reconciliation. But by 1936, the Nazis had taken over the government. While the Games were technically well organised and many athletes inspired through their performances and stories, they were also exploited by Nazi propagandists.
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Twelve years from Garmisch-Partenkirchen to St. Moritz
The outbreak of hostilities, first in Japan and China and then in Europe, made it impossible for the Olympic Winter Games to be held in 1940 or 1944. Due to the war many athletes had not left their home countries for a long while, or indeed at all – let alone to compete at an international sporting event. The St. Moritz 1948 Games thus represented a kind of rebirth, not just for the athletes, but for the whole world. --- St. Moritz 1948 - Opening Ceremony.
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To the home of skiing
In 1952, the Games finally came to Norway in Oslo, the birthplace of modern skiing. For the first time, the Winter Games were held in a city located on the sea. Oslo is indeed situated at the end of a fjord of the same name. --- Oslo 1952 - Slalom track.
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Speed skater Hjalmar Andersen won three gold medals at the Oslo 1952 Games. His winning margins in the 5,000m and the 10,000m were the largest in Olympic history. --- Oslo 1952 - Hjalmar Andersen (NOR) - Speed skating.
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An artificial ice cooling system
For the first time at the Cortina d’Ampezzo Games in 1956, the main rink had an artificial ice cooling system. This offered promising possibilities. Ice activities could now be organised in mountain towns and Alpine events in surrounding resorts. --- Cortina d’Ampezzo 1956 - Speed skating training.
When Alexander Cushing put forward Squaw Valley's bid for the 1960 Games to the International Olympic Committee in 1955, the resort did not yet exist. He was the only inhabitant and homeowner in the whole place (300km from San Francisco and 1,900m above sea level). --- Squaw Valley 1960 - Ice hockey infrastructure.
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The appearance of slow motion
The officials of the Squaw Valley 1960 Games, unsure as to whether a skier had missed a gate in the men's slalom, asked CBS-TV if they could review a videotape of the race. This gave CBS the idea to invent the now ubiquitous "instant replay." --- Squaw Valley 1960 - Adrien Duvillard (FRA) - Downhill skiing.
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When humans made it snow
In Innsbruck in 1964, the Games now ran for two weeks. This extra week allowed events to be postponed if the weather conditions were poor. In January 1964, the hot “Foehn” wind was blowing. A heat wave hit the resort and put the competitions at risk. This situation forced the organisers to use artificial snow for the first time (the first snow cannons were patented in 1961). The army came to the rescue. Soldiers cut and transported 20,000 blocks of ice for use on the bobsleigh and luge tracks, which were artificially refrigerated. The competitions were saved. --- Innsbruck 1964 - When Humans Made it Snow.
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Artificial ice for the bobsleigh
For the first time at the Innsbruck 1964 Games, a bobsleigh track that used artificial ice was built for the Games and as a result the bobsleigh conditions became more controllable and less dangerous. --- Innsbruck 1964 - Four-men bobsleigh.
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Urban media centres
Starting with the Grenoble Games in 1968, the city’s landscape began to change with the growth of the Games and advances in technology. Olympic villages and media centres are now integrated into the host city’s urban planning. --- Grenoble 1968 - Journalists.
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Bobsleigh at night
As the Alpe d’Huez bobsleigh track was too exposed to the sun, the competitions at the Grenoble 1968 Games were held at night. Depending on the temperature, the athletes had to wake up in the middle of the night to take part in the events. --- Grenoble 1968 – Bobsleigh, participants taking care of the bobsleighs.
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This "Nostalgia” selection is part of a temporary exhibition at The Olympic Museum in Lausanne (Switzerland) devoted to the history and evolution of the Olympic Winter Games. Entitled “Rêver en blanc (Dreaming in white), the epic story of the Olympic Winter Games”, this exhibition traces the history of the event and explores current and future challenges, with the goal of making the Olympic Games more responsible, inclusive and sustainable.