10 truths: the Winter Olympics

The Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics begins today amidst controversy and criticism

Speed skater on ice rink, Winter Olympics, Norway


While athletes from around the world are competing to take home the gold, we look back over the tournament’s 90-year history.

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1) The first Winter Olympics took place in Chamonix, France, in 1924. 16 nations competed in 16 events.

2) The Winter Olympics was held in the same year as the summer games until 1992.

3) 12 countries have attended every Winter Olympic games. Only one, the United States, has won at least one gold at every single one.

4) Norwegian cross-country skier Bjorn Daehlie is the most successful competitor in the history of the games, with eight gold medals and four silver.

5) There has never been a southern hemisphere host. In fact, the first medalist from the southern hemisphere wasn’t until 1964, when New Zealand skier Annelise Coberger won the silver.

6) In 1948, the ice hockey event was nearly cancelled when USA sent two teams to St Moritz, Switzerland. This error happened because there were two American hockey organisations, one professional and one amateur, and each sponsored a different team. To resolve the situation, the amateur team was allowed to play but could not contest for a medal.

7) The US ice hockey team enjoyed the 1980 games at Lake Placid, USA, considerably more. The team, made up of amateurs and college players, beat the dominant Soviet Union team in the semi-final. The game became known as the ‘Miracle on Ice’. The Americans went on to win the gold against Finland.

8) Many of the events at the Winter Olympics involve considerable risk due to the speeds. There have been four deaths, two lugers and two skiers. The most recent was in Vancouver in 2010.

9) Nancy Kerrigan was favourite for the figure skating gold at the 1994 games in Lillehammer. Two months before the games, however, she was attacked, being clubbed in the knee with a baton. The attack was planned by her rival Tonya Harding’s ex-husband. But despite her injuries she recovered and won the silver.

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10) Four athletes have won medals at both the Winter and Summer Olympics. American Eddie Eagan won boxing and bobsled gold (1920 and 1932 respectively). In 1924, the Norweigan Jacob Tullin Thams won ski-jumping gold and went on to win yachting silver in 1936. East German Christa Luding-Rothenburger had an impressive haul of two speed skating golds, one silver and one bronze at the 1984, 1988 and 1992 Winter games to go with her sprint cycling silver in the summer Olympics. Finally, Canadian Clara Hughes got bronze in both the road race cycling event and individual time trial in 1996 and in 2002, won the bronze in the speed skating.