Sometimes miracles are sparse. At other times, they’re ubiquitous in their abundance. The year 1924 was the latter. The location was Chamonix, France. The occasion was the Winter Sports Games. Such was the built-up acclaim that 10,004 paying spectators presented themselves with wallets open for the pure privilege of partaking of the ice-accented events. The money expended was well worth it.
Those early to arrive were not disappointed. American Charles Jewtraw claimed the first championship by winning the opening event in 500-meter speed skating. Alas, for us Yanks, Finland’s Clas Thunberg, prevailed, claiming five medals, including three golds, in the five speed skating events on the docket.
But it wasn’t individuals who inspired the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to shift from “sponsoring” to “sanctioning” – a critical distinction — as official the first Winter Olympics. Bear in mind, the first Summer Olympics were entered into the history books on April 6, 1896, and held, shockingly, in Athens. Ergo, the 28-year pause was notable. That said, French officials were no dolts after having hosted the 1900 Summer Olympics. A quarter of a century later, they were in a tight competition against Amsterdam, Barcelona, Los Angeles, Prague and Rome to host their second summer Olympics. But why not re-skin the cat and make official a winter event? They did just that with the success of the Winter Sports Games hosted. In 1925, the IOC amended its charter, establishing the Winter Games. Post-facto, the 1924 Chamonix games anointed the inaugural.
Hopefully, the saving grace of being the first was philosophically rewarding. The cost of hosting the games, at the time, was an estimated 10 million francs. Despite crowds that reached 60,000 per day, total receipts only amounted to 5.5 million francs. For the sake of the greater good to come, France took a huge bath. But there were theatrics and multiple miracles. The first Winter Olympics were a phenom. Some 258 athletes from 16 nations competed — 245 were men and 13 were women. In the spirit of competitive consistency, the only sport open to women at the time was figure skating. We know that times have changed since then, but the biggest draw was…hockey. And here’s where the miracle comes in.
Canada sent all of 12 athletes – 11 men and one woman. Nine of those men could skate like demons. Toronto’s Granite Club members not only won all five of their matches; they outscored their opponents 110 to 3 (not a typo). The closest any team came was the United States in the gold-medal game, which Canada handily whipped with a score of 6-1. Harry Watson, the team’s MVP, put up 37 goals. As fate would have it, Canada’s low absolute man (and one woman)-power landed the country ninth overall in the medal count, a massively underwhelming finish for such a miraculous showing. There would be one more miracle to emerge from the games, but it wouldn’t arrive for a half century.