“Only those sports that are practised on snow or ice are considered as winter sports”
The Winter Olympic Games are an event that no true sports fan would dare to miss! The White Olympics are rightly considered to be the most spectacular: skiers hurtling down steep slopes, epic ice hockey confrontations, the meticulous and masterful figure skaters, and the thrill of the chase in the biathlon - these are all breathtaking sights, which keep hundreds of millions of TV viewers glued to their screens throughout the two weeks of the Games. And as for the passion that holds sway over the spectators, in the Olympic stands - no words can describe it!
The Winter Games of 2014 in Sochi are going to be unique: no other winter Olympics in the world has ever been able to boast such a rich sporting program. It will be a record-breaking Games both in terms of the total number of sporting events, and in terms of the number of new sports featuring in the program - there will be no fewer than 12! As a result, the total number of sporting events in the program will be 98, meaning that there will be the same number of medal sets to be won. That is 12 more than at the Vancouver Games in 2010, and 14 more than the Torino Games in 2006. Moreover, never before in the history of the Winter Games has there been a Games as balanced, from the point of view of gender equality, as the Sochi Games are going to be: a record number of women will be taking part in them.
Let's look back on how it all began...
At the dawn of the Olympic movement, the Program for the Games contained a mixture of sports disciplines from Scandinavian, Anglo-Saxon and Alpine countries. Only after the Second World War did it become more structured and standardized. During the period from the 60's to the 80's, the number of different sports in the program for the Olympic Winter Games remained relatively stable, with new sports appearing only rarely. But the Sarajevo Games in 1984 saw radical changes: the Program virtually doubled in size, with new events being brought in, new distances added and a new alpine skiing style adopted. In the 90's and early 2000's, short track speed skating was added to the Olympic sports program, along with ladies' biathlon, snowboarding, curling, skeleton and other disciplines.
The first Olympic Winter Games was the so-called "Winter Sports Week" in the French town of Chamonix. It took place in 1924 and saw 16 nations taking part. These Games were not very lucrative for the organizers, but they helped to spread the word - public opinion about the Winter Olympics was very positive.
A competition was held to choose the host city for the next Winter Games, in 1928 - and the mantle was taken up by the Swiss town of St. Moritz. This Games was somewhat undermined by the weather - some events had to be canceled altogether. But the people taking part were a far more representative bunch, with 450 competitors from 25 different countries.
The third Winter Games, in 1932, were the first to be staged in North America. The host city was Lake Placid, in the USA. The 1932 Games were notable for being the first Winter Games where formal opening and closing ceremonies were held, and the medals were handed to the winning athletes on a podium after each sporting event. Due to the Great Depression, only 17 countries were able to send teams to this Olympic Games.
In 1936, the German alpine resort of Garmisch-Partenkirchen hosted the IV Winter Games, despite numerous calls for the White Olympics not to be held in Nazi Germany. Teams from 28 countries attended these Games, and for the first time the Olympic flame was lit at the opening ceremony, and was only put out on the final day of the Games. These traditions have remained in place right up until the present day.
After a 12-year interval brought about by the Second World War - during which no Olympic Games were held - the V Games, which were hosted by the Swiss town of St. Moritz once again, were dubbed "The Rebirth Games". Athletes from 28 countries were in attendance, but no Germans or Japanese were invited: memories of the war were still too fresh in people's minds. Due to financial difficulties, many of the athletes came poorly equipped or without any equipment of their own at all.
The VI Olympic Winter Games, in the Norwegian capital of Oslo, saw numerous innovations: for the first time, the Olympic torch was carried right around the country; the Games were opened by a woman for the first time; and in another first, they were held in a state capital rather than a resort town. Athletes from 30 different countries took part in this Olympic Games.
The Italian winter resort of Cortina d'Ampezzo in the Dolomite Alps played host to the next White Olympics, in 1956. These Games are particularly remembered for the very successful showing by Soviet athletes, and were the first to be broadcast on TV. At that time the Olympic sporting events could only be watched in 22 countries. A record number of athletes traveled to the 1956 Olympics: 821 people from 32 nations.
The alpine skiing resort of Squaw Valley was built specially for the Olympic Winter Games of 1960 in the USA. These Games revolutionized the way sporting events were broadcast: for the first time it became possible to show the action in slow-motion. The Olympic hymn, which had recently been approved by the IOC, was sung at the opening ceremony.
Innsbruck, 1964, Austria. A special Olympic village was built in the Tyrolean capital for these Games, along with a smaller village, in Seefeld, for athletes competing in the skiing events. For the first time, the sporting venues were scattered among various cities, while the Olympic flame was lit in Olympia. The downhill skiing events could now be timed with accuracy of up to a hundredth of a second.
At the Games in the French city of Grenoble, in 1968, TV viewers were able to watch the excitement unfold in color for the first time. Whereas in the past the luge and bobsleigh tracks had been built almost side-by-side, this time they were situated in two different resorts, tens of kilometers apart. At these Games, the IOC Medical Commission instituted doping control for the first time.
In 1972 the Winter Olympics were held in an Asian country for the first time - with the host city being Sapporo, in Japan. As far as the preparations for the Games were concerned, the hosts excelled themselves. The athletes turned heads too: the Japanese ski-jumpers took all three medals in their event, Dutch skater Ard Schenk and Soviet skier Galina Kulakova won three golds apiece, while an alpine skiing gold went to Spaniard Francisco Ochoa - the only gold medal Spain has ever won at the Olympic Winter Games.
In 1976, two Olympic cauldrons were lit at the same time, to mark the fact that the Games were being hosted by Innsbruck for the second time after a 12-year gap. They cauldrons can still be admired to this day, at the foot of the ski jump on Mount Bergisel, which towers above the city. At these Games, the bobsleigh and luge events were held on the same track for the first time.
1980. Lake Placid. USA. Lake Placid has applied to host the Olympic Winter Games more times than any other city - on no fewer than eight occasions! After St. Moritz and Innsbruck, it was the third city to host the Olympic Winter Games twice. The organizers of these Games were the first to make use of artificial snow. And after the Games the Olympic village was turned into a prison.
The 1984 Winter Games were held in what was then Yugoslavia, in Sarajevo - now the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina. At these Olympics the growth of TV broadcasting rights heralded a new economic era in professional sport.
The '88 Olympics in Calgary were the first Winter Games in Canada's history. The sports venues in Canada's Olympic Park - a luge track and a ski jump - were built on the edge of the city, and were for many years the only such facilities in that part of North America where athletes could train.
Albertville 1992 When France hosted the third Olympic Winter Games in its history, the Olympic Villages were for the first time situated not within the host city or its environs, but at sites roughly 30 km from the city. Only the events on the ice and the ceremonies were held in Albertville.
The 1994 Games, in the Norwegian city of Lillehammer, were a turning point in the history of the Olympic Winter Games: they were held just two years after the Winter Olympics in Albertville, so as to distance them from the Olympic Summer Games. Even more importantly, these Games were the first to be held under the banner of respect for the environment.
In 1998, the city of Nagano in Japan hosted the Olympic Winter Games for the second time. Curling returned to the program, whilst snowboarding and ladies' ice hockey featured for the first time. These Games were also dedicated to protecting the environment.
At the Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City, in 2002, most of the sports venues were located high up in the mountains. The alpine races took place at the maximum height allowed by the International Ski Federation (FIS), and the rink in Salt Lake was one of the highest ice rinks in the world.
The 2006 Games in Turin, in Italy, introduced spectators to new sports disciplines such as snowboard cross, team races in speed skating and the mass-start in the biathlon. Latvia won the first winter sports medal in its history. France won its first medal in cross-country skiing, while Finland got its first medal in alpine skiing.
Vancouver, 2010, Canada Two new sports were included in the Olympic program: men's and ladies' ski-cross. No fewer than six countries made their debut in the Winter Olympics: Montenegro, Columbia, Pakistan, Ghana, Peru and the Cayman Islands. At the closing ceremony, the Olympic flag was passed on amid much pomp and circumstance to Anatole Pakhomov, the mayor of Sochi - which will host the Winter Games in 2014. There will be about 80 countries taking part in the Sochi Games, which means a record number of 5500 Olympic athletes and team members. Roughly 3 million TV viewers around the world will tune in to watch the Games in Sochi.