On Friday, February 7, 2014 the XXII Winter Olympics will be rung in at the Olympic Stadium in Sochi, Russia. This comes 90 years after the first meet, which now known as I Winter Olympics, was known then as International Winter Sports week in Chamonix, France (the French Alps of course). That kicked off on January 25th, 1924 with 6 total sports and 14 total events. Being somewhat new, it captured the imagination of spectators and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) held the next one in St. Moritz Switzerland in 1928, dubbing it the Second game of the Winter Olympics. Scandinavians, who had been holding the Nordic Games in Sweden every 4 years since 1901, dominated the Chamonix games, and the United States skated away with a lone medal. The 16 nations that participated were so fond of the event, it led to the IOC planning the St. Moritz Games, and retroactively claiming Chamonix as the madly successful I Games of the Winter Olympiad.
The history of the Winter Games is a rich and somewhat convoluted one. There are 12 countries that have attended every Winter Games held – Austria, Finland, Great Britain, Canada, France, Sweden, Hungary, Poland, Italy, Norway, Switzerland and of course, the United States. Half of them have medaled in each game and the US is the only one that has taken at least 1 gold in every game, included the lone medal it took in the inaugural games of 1924. The countries of Germany and Japan have both been banned from times at the Winter Games, and are the only 2 countries that have. There have also been 2 cancellations of Winter Games, in 1940 and 1944 respectively, both due to WW II. The 1936 games, IV Olympic Winter Games, were held in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Bavaria, Germany, and the 1936 Summer Olympics had been in Berlin, Germany…this was the last year that had both Winter and Summer Games in the same host country, though the 2 year break between games we know now would not take effect until the 1990’s, with the Summer and Olympic games on the same every 4 year cycle.
In 1986 the IOC decided that the Winter and Summer Olympics needed to be put onto separate 4 year cycles. This was for a multitude of reasons, but it was hugely logistical. The cost of putting on an Olympic games is astronomical, for the host city/country, the participating nations, and the athletes and yes for the IOC. It also takes a lot of planning and effort. It also relieves the sponsors and gives more time for bigger packages, and better investment. The construction generally included in an Olympics also takes a lot of time, and this helped hosts to really make plans and execute well, without rushing. It took effect in the early 1990s, with the 1992 Summer games in Barcelona, Spain and the 1992 Winter games in Albertville, France, with the next Winter games to start the new cycle a mere 2 years later in 1994 in Lillehammer, Norway (though more commonly known to most as Kerrigan – Harding grudge match).
Now, I am not going to pretend that I am not an Olympic Geek. I am. I watch the winter and summer Olympics religiously. Ironically, my least favorite part is generally the Figure Skating, though it appears to be almost everyone else favorite and gets oh so much coverage. I am 100% an Olympic watching, any sport is a good sport, gotta love it fan. Little actually research was needed for this piece, as it is part of my ridiculous useless knowledge arsenal. What has the Olympics on my mind however is sadly not the impending Games, the opening ceremony, the excitement or any of that. It is that we are repeating history. In 1936, nations went into Germany for TWO separate games as it was the last year the the Olympics were in the same host city for both. Countries poured in, and no matter what concessions Hitler and the Third Reich made, they were not enough. With what was happening to people being stripped of their rights, persecuted, herded into camps and killed the world went in and said and did nothing. Is that what is going to happen now? Are we as advanced nations going to go into Sochi Russia and say nothing of the way that people are being treated there? Are we going to allow them to classify homosexuals as second class citizens, and even extending their hatred to tourists? All that remains to be seen I guess, and all I can say is I hope not. So my excitement for the Olympics this year is tempered as I am a huge activist for not only Gay Rights but Civil Rights in general. I find it hard to stand by and keep my mouth shut. I just pray others will as well.