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January 9, 2015

Ice dancing with the stars: The Winter Olympics

In 1924, the French Olympic Committee held a “winter week” of competitions, a prelude to the Summer Olympics in Paris later that year.

It wasn’t until later that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) designated the Chamonix events as les Iers Jeux olympiques d’hiver: the First Winter Olympic Games.

Figure Skating 1924 Chamonix

Austrian gold medalists in figure skating, Chamonix, 1924.

Every Winter Olympiad has taken place in February, with four of the earliest also covering a few days at the end of January. As such, the Winter Games have never been held in the Southern Hemisphere.

As they did on Monday, the Olympics come up often as Jeopardy! fodder. I’ve broken them up into smaller chunks to help you remember when and where the world’s best skiers, curlers, and bobsledders met.

Like the Summer Games, the Winter Olympics are counted using Roman numerals.

Summer Tagalongs

# Year Host Country Host City
I 1924 France Chamonix
II 1928 Switzerland St. Moritz
III 1932 United States Lake Placid
IV 1936 Germany Garmisch-Partenkirchen

Mnemonic: First, Second, UGly war ahead [first letters of the host country]

1932 Lake Placid Medal

Medal, 1932.

Three of the first four Winter Olympics had the same host country as the Summer Games: 1924 in France, 1932 in the United States (Los Angeles), and 1936 in Germany (Berlin).

Adolf Hitler opened both games in 1936. Ironically, FDR had opened the previous Winter Games, at Lake Placid (1932). He was still Governor of New York at the time.

I have yet to figure out a way to remember “Garmisch-Partenkirchen” except by rote. (They are two different towns.)

War Games?

# Year Host Country Host City
V 1940 Japan Sapporo
V 1944 Italy Cortina d’Ampezzo

Mnemonic: Japan needed a beer to drown its sorrows after canceling the 1940 Games; its fellow Axis power, Italy, soon joined it. [Sapporo is a brand of Japanese beer]

1940 Sapporo button

Stamp design, 1940.

Had the 1940 Olympics been held, Japan would have joined the same-year club above; the Summer Games were slated for Tokyo. Japan backed out of both in 1938 due to the Sino-Japanese War.

The 1940 Winter Games were then given to St. Moritz; after some squabbles with the Swiss, the IOC awarded them anew to Garmisch-Partenkirchen.

Four months before the games, Germany invaded Poland, and everything was off. 1944 was cancelled with plenty of time to spare.

Cold War

# Year Host Country Host City
V 1948 Switzerland St. Moritz
VI 1952 Norway Oslo
VII 1956 Italy Cortina d’Ampezzo
VIII 1960 United States Squaw Valley

Mnemonic: After WWII, we bought new wool SOCS [first letter of each city] for the Winter Olympics.

If you need a time peg, add: By 1960, Fidel Castro was Squawking.

1948 St. Moritz

Gorgeous poster, 1948.

St. Moritz became the first two-time host city in 1948, twenty years after its first turn. Innsbruck and Lake Placid would eventually join it.

The 1948 installment was known as The V Olympic Winter Games. This was unlike the Summer Games, which counted the canceled events: Tokyo would have been The Games of the XII Olympiad; London, in 1944, would have been XIII. (London got the 1948 games, too, numbered 14th.)

Cortina d’Ampezzo, host city for the nixed 1944 Winter Games, got its chance twelve years later. Like Garmisch-Partenkirchen, this name is a candidate for rote memorization.

Thanks to the Squaw Valley Games, California is still the only state to host Olympics in both Summer (Los Angeles, 1932 & 1984) and Winter. Vice President Richard Nixon opened the Winter Games.

The Innsbruck Sandwich

# Year Host Country Host City
IX 1964 Austria Innsbruck
X 1968 France Grenoble
XI 1972 Japan Sapporo
XII 1976 Austria Innsbruck

Mnemonic: I played chess at the first Inn before doing the Giant Slalom to the second Inn. Made it in time for the fireworks!

Denver 1976

Obsolete pin, 1976.

The two extra bits represent the years of the Innsbruck games: there are 64 squares on a chessboard, and the fireworks are in celebration of America’s bicentennial.

In fact, the 1976 Games were originally awarded to Denver, but Colorado voters rejected the public-financing terms. After the second-place finisher, Vancouver, turned down the IOC’s offer to host, there wasn’t much time left to plan, so a recent venue was the best option.

The Grenoble Games were the first broadcast in color. Allegedly to accommodate the additional equipment, there were three separate Athletes’ Villages, which angered many participants.

Changing World, Changing Years

# Year Host Country Host City
XIII 1980 United States Lake Placid
XIV 1984 Yugoslavia Sarajevo
XV 1988 Canada Calgary
XVI 1992 France Albertville
XVII 1994 Norway Lillehammer

Mnemonic: Things were Placid in Sarajevo before Big Brother arrived with his echoing voice: CALALL

1992 Albertville 500 franc coin

500 Francs, 1992.

Big Brother stands in for 1984, the year Sarajevo hosted. The elevated judges’ platform for ski jumping was later used as a sniper’s nest during Yugoslavia’s civil war in the early 1990s. (Sarajevo is now the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina.)

And CALgary, ALbertville, and Lillehammer form a nice, easy-to-remember order.

The 1980 “Miracle on Ice” – the U.S. victory over the U.S.S.R. in the men’s ice hockey semifinals – took place on the Americans’ home turf. Rubbing salt in the wound, the United States would boycott that year’s Summer Games in Moscow.

Vice President Walter Mondale opened the second Lake Placid Games.

Regarding Lillehammer: The IOC HAMMERed it in two years after Albertville, to create even-ish spacing between the Winter and Summer Games. It was also the target of the Nancy Kerrigan knee-HAMMERing incident.

OK, it was a baton, but whatever.

Also: Jeff Gillooly. Gillooly.

Who Wants to Host the Olympics?

# Year Host Country Host City
XVIII 1998 Japan Nagano
XIX 2002 United States Salt Lake City
XX 2006 Italy Turin
XXI 2010 Canada Vancouver
XXII 2014 Russia Sochi

Mnemonic: JUICeR [first letter of each host country]

2010 Vancouver logo

Mascot, 2010.

George W. Bush became the only sitting President to open an American Winter Olympiad in 2002. Those Games were organized by Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential candidate.

Climate change likely played a role in the lack of snow at the Vancouver Games, which forced organizers to ship snow from the Rockies.

Just a year after Sochi, Russia is already struggling to make something out of its $51 billion price tag. The city hosted this year’s World Chess Championship, but, really – who wants to visit for fun?

The 2018 Games will be held in Pyeongchang, South Korea; the 2022 Games will be awarded this summer. After several candidates were scared off by the potentially prohibitive costs, the only two that submitted final bids this week were Almaty, Kazakhstan, and Beijing, China.

Games by Country

Austria (2)
Innsbruck (1964 & 1976)

Cool Runnings

The 1993 film Cool Runnings is based on events at the 1988 Games.

Canada (2)
Calgary, Alberta (1988)
Vancouver, British Columbia (2010)

France (3)
Albertville (1992)
Chamonix (1924)
Grenoble (1968)

Germany (1)
Garmisch-Partenkirchen (1936)

Italy (2)
Cortina d’Ampezzo (1944) (1956)
Turin (2006)

Japan (2)
Nagano (1998)
Sapporo (1940) (1972)

Norway (2)
Lillehammer (1994)
Oslo (1952)

Russia (1)
Sochi (2014)

Switzerland (2)
St. Moritz (1928 & 1948)

United States (4)
Lake Placid, New York (1932 & 1980)
Salt Lake City, Utah (2002)
Squaw Valley, California (1960)

Yugoslavia (1)
Sarajevo (1984)

  1. The Winter Olympics were cancelled because of World Wars. You would think that the presence of Matt Lauer would justify further cancellations.

  2. Impressive post, Keith… though I personally don’t care a lick about the Olympics. But from a primer standpoint, why not?

  3. Suggested mnemonic: Japan needed a beer to drown its sorrows after canceling the 1940 Games; its fellow Axis power, Italy, closed the CURTAINS on their 1944 games soon after.

    (CORTINA d’Ampezzo = CURTAIN of the Ampezzo Valley)

What do you think?