The first modern Winter Olympics were held in Chamonix, a French resort town nestled in the Alps, in 1924. Two hundred fifty-eight athletes represented 16 countries in eight sports.
“Thousands of visitors have gathered in this small Alpine town on the slopes of Mont Blanc, which today, for the first time in a week, threw off its blanket of thick clouds, the peak glistening in the right sunshine and providing a wonderful setting for the Olympics,” wrote the Associated Press.
The Summer Olympics in 1908 featured figure skating and the 1920 edition had figure skating and ice hockey, too, but Chamonix marked the first time the world’s best winter athletes had the world’s stage to themselves.
Unsurprisingly, Olympic feats have come quite a long way since. There are 2,952 athletes competing in 102 events in 15 sports in PyeongChang. And their times and distances are putting the Chamonix athletes to shame.
Setting aside for a moment the entirely separate sports universe today’s athletes compete in, let’s take a moment to marvel at sheer human progress and how much better 2018’s competitors are than 1924’s.
(A quick note: Some of the PyeongChang medal rounds haven’t happened yet, so in their place, we listed the gold medal results from Sochi.)
Ski jumping was born in Norway in 1808 thanks to a Norwegian army officer trying to show off for his friends. He skied down a ramp, flew through the air and — ta da! — a sport was born.
Norwegians continue to dominate the sport. The 1924 gold medalist Jacob Tullin Thams sailed 49 meters through the air for a gold medal. Adreas Stjernen, the 2018 gold medalist, traveled more than twice that distance.
Speed skating was a very popular sport in the first Winter Games. There were five disciplines, four of them comparable to the events in PyeongChang.
Charles Jewtraw won the only speed skating gold medal for the United States in the 500-meter race.
Otherwise, Finland dominated the medal stand in Chamonix, with gold medals in the remaining four events, including the 1,500-meter, 5,000-meter and 10,000-meter.
Clas Thunberg added two more gold medals in the 1928 Games in St. Moritz, Switzerland. He won the 500-meter and 1,500-meter races.
Cross-country skiing might be the sport with the most extreme disparity in results. Today’s athletes are in such better shape and have much better equipment. They’d finish sometimes hours ahead of the sports forefathers back in Chamonix.
Thorleif Haug of Norway won both 1924 cross-country skiing gold medals and won the gold in Nordic combined. He died 10 years later at age 40.
The actual sleigh teams used in 1924 verses 2018 make it look like these athletes were competing in different sports.
This was the 1924 bobsled:
It’s an open air carriage where four men hopped on and clung to the sides for dear life. They weren’t exactly aerodynamic, and the courses didn’t have the same perpendicular turns that PyeongChang’s sled pilots have to navigate.
This is a 2018 bobsled:
It’s a two-part fiberglass machine built for speed. An Olympic sled can cost tens of thousands of dollars just to assemble, let alone all the costs involved with tweaking the sleigh to make it as fast as possible. Today’s bobsleds can reach speeds near 90 miles an hour.
As you can imagine, that has quite an impact on Olympic times.
As the wild world of sports keeps turning, expect these times and distances to get faster and further. In speed skating and short-track speedskating alone, PyeongChang athletes have already broken eight world records.
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