The Olympic and Paralympic Games have always been a synonym for unity through sports. It’s an event that even those of us who dislike sports can appreciate and talk about. The Winter Olympics, in particular, just have a special kind of atmosphere. It could be that all those snowy images we see remind us of the cosiness of the holidays! But the true magic of the Winter Olympics is of course the ability of the participating athletes to perform the way they do!
Winter sports feature a lot of speed, whether that be snowboarding or skiing down the slopes. Figure skating is always a crowd favorite, due to the amazing techniques of the ice dancers; and the bobsled teams are just incredibly cool to watch!
The Olympics are currently being held in PyeongChang, South Korea. Let’s take a closer look at the 2018 Winter Olympics. There’s a lot to see!
Table of contents
A brief history of the Winter Olympics
The host country of this year’s Winter Olympics: South Korea
Winter Paralympic Games
Some of the most notable “warm-weather countries” participating in the Winter Olympics
A brief history of the Winter Olympics
Winter sports have existed for a long, long time. The Winter Olympics actually had a predecessor called; the Nordic Games that took place in Sweden every 4 years until 1926. The organiser of these games, General Balck, was a charter member of the IOC and a good friend of the founder of the Olympic Games. He tried to get winter sports into the Summer Olympic games and succeeded in 1908 and again in 1912.
The first official Winter Olympic games were supposed to be held in Berlin in 1916, but when WWI began they were cancelled. So it was that the first Olympic winter games went to the French winter wonderland of Chamonix in 1924. Even though it was called International Winter Sports Week, retroactively it has been designated as the first Winter Olympics. During these first games 250 athletes from 16 nations successfully competed in 16 events. At the time, the only sport open to women was figure skating and 11 female athletes competed. It was also the debut for Norwegian 11-year old figure skater Sonja Henie, she would turn out to be a superstar of her time. That’s what we call an impressive age to be participating in the Olympics!
The Olympic Winter games in 1924
Take a peek at how they did the Winter Olympics back in 1924!
The first Games held outside of Europe were in the United States, in Lake Placid in 1932. Unfortunately, only 17 countries attended due to the economic depression at the time and the organization suffered a huge financial loss. The next Games were held in 1936 in Germany, which was also the last time that the Summer and Winter Games were held in the same country in the same year.
The Winter Olympics weren’t held again until 1948, twelve years after the last ones had taken place, because of the aftermath of WWII. The first post-war Games were held in Moritz, Switzerland. Due to its neutrality during the war, the venues were still intact and therefore this was a logical choice.
The first Winter Olympics to be televised were held in 1956, in Italy’s Cortina D´Ampezzo. During the opening ceremony, the torch bearer skated in, fell over and almost extinguished the Olympic flame! He recovered, however, and manged to light the cauldron.
Can you imagine the excitement it must have been to be able to see this on your own small screen back then? Take a look at the video below if you’re curious:
In 1960, the Winter Olympics returned to the US, this time in Squaw Valley. It was the first time “athlete’s villages” were created and the opening and closing ceremonies were produced by Walt Disney. There must have been a lot of magic in the air during those Olympics!
The first Games to be hosted outside of Europe or North-America were in the land of the rising sun; Japan. It was during these games that the only Spanish athlete, Francisco Fernández Ochoa, won a gold medal during a Winter Olympics. This record still stands today! But, who knows what the 2018 Olympics might bring for Spain.
The 1980 games were also full off juicy stories. The games returned to Lake Placid, where they were held back in 1932. It was the first time since 1952 that China participated, and the first time the games were boycotted. Taiwan had the same national anthem and name as China and didn’t want to change that. The result was that China participated, but Taiwan refused. It was also the very first time that the smallest nation ever to have participated produced an Olympic gold medallist. Hanni Wenzel won both slalom and giant slalom for her country: Liechtenstein.
In 1984, the games went to Yugoslavia. It came as a surprise to many as this was not a front-running country. The games were very well organized and British Ice dancers Jayne Torvil and Christopher Dean won a gold medal and unanimously achieved a perfect score for artistic impression. Take a look as they flawlessly skated to Ravel’s Boléro:
In 1992, the games were held in the French region of Savoie, the last time the Winter and Summer games would be held in the same year. It was also the first time an athlete from the southern hemisphere won a silver medal: Skier Anneliese Coberger from New Zealand. Germany competed as a single nation after the fall of communism and the Baltic states made independent appearances for the very first time since WWI.
It’s fascinating to see how a love of sports can bring so many different people, from literally all over the world, together, how these events are forever etched in people’s minds and how important the Olympic Games have been from the very beginning!
As the new millennium began, the first games were held in 2002 in Salt Lake City. Once again, these games represented more than just athletes from different nations competing against each other. As they were the first Games after the 9/11 attacks, a higher degree of security was present and would only increase after these Games.
In 2010 the Games returned to Canada, this time to Vancouver. It’s the largest metropolitan area to ever have hosted the Winter Olympics. Over 2500 athletes from 82 countries participated! The tragic death of a Georgian luger, Nodar Kumaritashvili, just hours before the opening ceremonies, during a training run was, understandably, at the centre of a lot of heavy criticism. He was thrown from the track due to an overly fast sliding track.
The last Winter Olympics were in 2014 in Sochi, Russia. For Russia, this was their very first time hosting the Winter Olympics, and over 2800 athletes from 88 countries participated in the Games – a record number! These were the most expensive games to date, costing an astounding 51 billion dollars! Can you imagine the organizers of the American 1932 Games during the Great Depression hearing that? Russia was initially leading the medal table but after the discovery of a state funded doping scandal, Norway took their place. Norway is also the country that produced the most decorated winter Olympian, Ole Einar Bjørndalen, who won 13 medals. Due to Russia’s state-funded doping scandal they were banned, with immediate effect, from entering the next Winter Olympics. Luckily, Russian athletes who can prove that they’re “clean” can still participate as “Olympic Athletes from Russia”, under a neutral banner.
The host country of this year’s Winter Olympics: South Korea!
As we know, the Winter Olympics are being held in the city of Pyeongchang in South Korea.
The always-impressive lighting ceremony took place in October 2017, in the mythical Olympia, Greece; where “Greek goddesses” provided the Olympic flame that would travel all the way to Pyeongchang, South Korea.
Some (fun) facts about the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang
Caption: Soohorang is the official mascot for the Winter Olympics in 2018
Source : https://goo.gl/kzmsSy
- The Official Mascot: Is a White Tiger named Soohorang! The white tiger is Korea’s guardian animal and therefore a great choice for their mascot. Sooho means protection and Rang comes from the word for “tiger” and is also the last letter of a beloved traditional song from the province where the Games will be held. Soohorang is there to protect everyone involved in the games, channeling spirit and passion, and is a trustworthy friend.
- Official Slogan: Passion-Connected, which is supposed to embody the vision to expand winter spots participation to a global audience and create a lasting effect on the youth and generations to come.
- The 2018 Winter Olympic vision is the following: “PyeongChang 2018’s vision for the 2018 Games is to offer the Olympic Movement and the world of winter sports New Horizons – a legacy of new growth and new potential never seen before. Its Winter Games plan is one of the most compact in Olympic history, it offers a unique stage on which the world’s best athletes can achieve superior performances. With PyeongChang’s strategic position in Asia, and its access to a young and fast-growing youth market, the 2018 Olympic Winter Games will no doubt expose new generations of potential athletes to the power of winter sport.”
- The Official Emblem: the emblem is called: “Where the earth meets the sky” it has its roots in Hangul (the Korean alphabet). The first consonants of each syllable of the word PyeongChang make up the basis of the shapes of the logo. The first character also represents a gathering place where heaven, earth and humans are in harmony. The second character symbolizes snow and ice and the athletes’ stellar performances. Or as the Olympic committee put it: “A square where the earth meets the sky, and where athletes excel in snow or on ice – that’s where everyone will celebrate the world’s biggest winter festival in 2018.”
The official Winter Olympics 2018 medals
- The Medals: the medals were designed by South Korean designer Lee Suk-woo and incorporate the Korean alphabet and the foundation of Korean culture. The ribbon is made from gapsa, a traditional fabric.
- The Torch: the torch is 700 mm long, representing PyeongChang’s altitude which is 700 meters above sea level. It has gold tones, which are the main colors of this Winter Olympics. The five-angled shape represents the spirit of sports and connects races, nations, religions, genders, cultures and the five continents.
- Olympic firsts: the games will have 8 new medal events, increasing the total number of gold medals awarded to 102. A mixed doubles event in curling; alpine skiing, traditionally an individual sport, will have a mixed team event for the first time. The speed skating programme will be rounded off with men’s and women’s ‘mass start’ events.
Curious about everything that has been built for these Games? Take a look at the venues!
Winter Paralympic Games
Source: Public domain
The Winter Paralympic games will be held from the 9th to the 18th of March 2018. That’s two weeks after the Winter Olympics have ended. The history of the Winter Paralympic games is a lot like the Summer version. When injured soldiers returned from WWII they participated in sports as a way of healing. British convalescent hospitals began holding athletic competitions in 1948 and continued to do so until 1960. When the first Summer Paralympics were held in Rome, more than 400 athletes in wheelchairs competed!
Austrian double-leg amputee and pioneer for disabled athletes, Sepp Zwicknagel tried skiing using prosthetics. Thanks to his work, technological advances for people with disabilities who also wanted to participate in winter sports were made. However, advances were slow, and the first competition was only held in 1974 – physically impaired athletes participated in downhill and cross-country skiing.
The first official Winter Paralympics were in 1976 in the Swedish town of Örnsköldsvik. 198 athletes from 16 countries participated, and it was the first time that athletes other than wheelchair-athletes were allowed to participate.
Winter Paralympic Games 2018
- The official emblem of the Paralympic Winter Games (which is shown above) symbolizes snow, ice and Paralympic athletes. The two-star like characters are said, “to portray a grand festival for the athletes, the audience and everyone around the globe”. They also signify equality, as South Korea’s cardinal colours represent the uniqueness of each individual.
- The mascot is the adorable Bandabi! He’s an Asiatic black bear and, just like Soohorang, appears in South Korea’s mythology and is closely associated to their culture and folklore. It symbolizes strong will and courage, and the bear is also a symbol of the region.
Source : https://www.paralympic.org/pyeongchang-2018/mascot
Bandabi is the official mascot for the Winter Paralympics in 2018
The number of sports these athletes participate in is extortionary:
- Alpine Skiing
- Ice sledge hockey
- Ice sledge racing
- Bobsleigh (from 2022 on)
- Nordic cross-country skiing
- Wheelchair curling
Watching Olympic athletes perform during the Games is always exciting, extraordinary and breathtakingly beautiful to behold; but watching Paralympic athletes brush aside their disabilities and perform incredible feats is equally exceptional and inspiring.
Some of the most notable “warm-weather countries” participating in the Winter Olympics
It comes as no surprise when we see countries like Russia, Canada, Norway or Holland win medals in the Winter Olympics. After all, their climates are well suited to winter sports! Of course, that doesn’t take away any of their merit! It just means that they have a lot more athletes who can participate. So, when we see athletes from countries where it never snows or even freezes, our curiosity starts to peak. Especially when they rock at their sports!
- Cool Runnings! Who doesn’t remember the Jamaican bobsled team who inspired the 1993 blockbuster? They must be the most famous warm weather Winter Olympians ever! Unfortunately, the team crashed and finished last in Calgary. Although in 1994 they did much better and finished ahead of the United States. In order to be able to cover the costs for training and travel, they sold copies of their official reggae song: “Hobbin and A-Bobbin”.
Take a look at their very first time:
- The Snow Leopard: Kwame Nkrumah-Acheampong the first Ghanaian to ever qualify for the Winter Olympics! He was born in Scotland but grew up on Africa’s west-coast. He moved to the UK in the year 2000 and started working as a receptionist in an indoor skiing centre. He qualified to participate in the Olympics in only 6 years!
- Robel Zeimichael Teklemariam: a cross-country skier from Ethiopia. He was born in Ethiopia but moved to the US when he was nine. When he competed for his home country in Torino, though he hadn’t been there in 23 years. However, going there on vacation after the games made him want to stay in his native country for good. He competed again in 2010 in Vancouver.
- “Grandmother Luge”, or Anne Abernathy representing the US Virgin Islands. Her nick-name was given to her because she started competing at a much older age than the rest of the athletes. She discovered Luge during the 1983 games in Lake Placid, and has participated in 6 Winter Olympics, consistently ranking in the top 20 worldwide.
- Philip Boit: A Kenyan cross-country skier with no previous skiing experience. He was a former middle-distance runner when Nike approached him and a compatriot, wanting to train and sponsor them. He finished 92nd in the 10km race. When the winner, Bjørn Dæhlie, crossed the finish line, he waited for Boit to arrive to hug him as it was such an extraordinary performance.
We at Stannah can’t wait to see what the 2018 Winter Olympics will bring! One thing is for sure, it will unite the world once more through some good old camaraderie, sports, culture and a lot of fun!