As the Sochi Winter Games enter their final days, explore 10 surprising facts about the Winter Olympics.
Denver won—then rejected—the 1976 Winter Olympics.
In 1970, the International Olympic Committee selected Denver over three other candidates—Sion, Switzerland; Tampere, Finland and Vancouver, Canada—to host the 1976 Winter Olympics. As the projected costs and environmental impacts of the Olympics began to grow, however, so did public opposition. On Election Day in 1972, as President Richard Nixon swept to re-election, Colorado voters rejected a $5 million state bond issue to help pay for the Games. A week later, Denver stepped down as host of the Games, which were switched to Innsbruck, Austria, host city of the 1964 Winter Olympics.
Figure skating and ice hockey were originally part of the Summer Olympics.
Two of the most popular sports on ice actually made their Olympic debuts during the Summer Games, albeit at more seasonable times of the year. Back when Olympic programs stretched over the course of months, men’s, women’s and pairs figure skating were first held in October 1908 at the London Summer Games. Figure skating returned along with ice hockey in April 1920 as part of the Summer Olympics program in Antwerp. Both sports shifted to the Winter Olympics when they debuted in 1924.
Horses and dogs once participated in the Winter Games.
While equestrian events have been a long-time staple of the Summer Olympics, horses were also present at the 1928 Winter Games in the skijoring event in which competitors on skis raced each other as they were towed by riderless horses. Skijoring was a demonstration sport, so no medals were awarded, and the sport never returned to the Olympics. Canines, however, appeared during the 1932 Lake Placid Winter Games as part of the demonstration sport of sled dog racing.
A lack of snow required military intervention in 1964.
While much coverage has been given to the anomaly of holding the Winter Olympics in the subtropical resort city of Sochi, Russia, a lack of snow in normally frosty Innsbruck threatened the 1964 Games. Called to action, the Austrian army scaled nearby snow-capped mountains and carted more than 50,000 cubic yards of snow to the ski courses and 20,000 blocks of ice to the luge and bobsled tracks. The soldiers packed down the snow and ice with their hands and feet. (During the 1928 St. Moritz Winter Games, a freak heat spell drove temperatures up over 70 degrees by the end of the 50-kilometer cross-country race.)
Only one country has ever boycotted a Winter Olympics.
While the Summer Olympics was plagued by political boycotts during the Cold War, the same was not true of the Winter Games. However, Taiwan refused to participate in the 1980 Lake Placid Games after the International Olympic Committee prohibited it from being called the Republic of China in order to placate the People’s Republic of China, which was returning to the Olympics for the first time since 1952.
West and East Germany competed together on three occasions.
The two countries on opposite sides of the Iron Curtain competed together as the Unified Team of Germany in both the Winter and Summer Games in 1956, 1960 and 1964.
Norway has captured more gold than any other country.
Although it is a country of just five million people, a similar population to Colorado, Norway entered the Sochi Games with a record avalanche of 107 gold medals and 303 total medals. It is one of only three countries—including Austria and Liechtenstein—that has won more medals in the Winter Games than in the Summer Olympics.
Only one person has ever won gold in both the Winter and Summer Olympics.
American Eddie Eagan captured gold in the light-heavyweight boxing event at the 1920 Antwerp Summer Games, and a dozen years later he was a member of the four-man bobsled team that won at the 1932 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid. Norway’s Jacob Tullin Thams, East Germany’s Christa Luding-Rothenburger and Canada’s Clara Hughes are the other three athletes to win medals in different sports in the Winter and Summer Olympics. Luding-Rothenburger achieved her feat in the same year by winning silver in the match-sprint cycling at the 1988 Seoul Summer Games just seven months after winning gold and silver medals in speed skating at the Calgary Winter Games. (Sweden’s Gillis Grafstrom won gold medals in the 1920 Summer Games and 1924 Winter Games but in the same event—figure skating.)
It took 82 years for a British curling team to receive gold medals.
Great Britain won the curling event at the inaugural 1924 Winter Olympics, although the competition was not stiff. Only four teams competed, and two were from the same country—Sweden. Curling did not return to the official program of the Winter Games until 1998. For decades, curling was considered to have been a demonstration sport at the 1924 Winter Olympics. However, in 2006 the International Olympic Committee ruled that the sport had indeed been part of the official program, and it upgraded the curling team’s gold medals from demonstration to official status.
Two men’s hockey teams from the United States arrived at the 1948 Games.
Talk about awkward. Two teams, backed by rival hockey associations, arrived at the 1948 St. Moritz Winter Games claiming they were the rightful squad to compete for the United States. The team backed by the American Hockey Association, which included professionals, was ultimately recognized as the official American team, while the strictly amateur squad sponsored by the Amateur Athletic Union and the United States Olympic Committee sat on the sidelines and even booed their compatriots from the stands.