It goes without saying that I am more than excited about the Winter Olympic Games. Although my favourite sports to watch are figure skating, ice hockey and ski jumping, I’ll quite happily watch most of the events, with the exception of curling. I thought I’d write a post today about some of the interesting – and sometimes controversial – events linked with the Games since its 1924 inception.

Figure skating was the first winter sport to be included in the Olympics, debuting in the Summer Games in 1908 in London. When it was first included, skating often took place outdoors and competitors skated to a live orchestra, making it one of the biggest highlights of the Games.

Norwegian figure skater Sonja Henie was the star of the 1928 St Moritz Games, winning gold, and holding her Olympic title for two consecutive Games. She was the youngest ever Olympic champion, a title she kept for 74 years. Henie went on to be a star of another sort, when she became a Hollywood actress and was engaged to, of all people, Liberace.

During the 1980 Games in Lake Placid, a ‘miracle on ice’ took place when the US men’s hockey team – made up of amateurs players, unlike today – beat the Soviet men’s team, a dominant squad that had triumphed four times in a row. The Soviets were so shamed by this that they refused to print the result in their newspapers. This win later inspired the film Miracle (2004) starring Kurt Russell.

At that same Olympics, American speed skater Eric Heiden took home an amazing five gold medals, setting a world record and four Olympic records. He was the first person to win five individual gold medals during one Winter Games.

The Winter Olympics has not been without controversy, however. As well as rumours of bribery and corruption within the IOC, many sordid incidents have plagued the Winter Games.

In 1936, Hitler opened the Games in Germany, an event where an attempted ban was placed on Jewish athletes. One of Germany’s greatest hockey stars, Rudi Ball, almost missed the event because of his religion. But his non-Jewish teammate, Gustav Jaenecke, refused to play if his friend was not selected, which would have greatly decreased Germany’s chance of Olympic success. The Nazis finally gave Ball permission to play, and they eventually placed fifth, after winning bronze in the previous Olympics. Ball was the only Jewish athlete to represent Germany in the 1936 Winter Games.

Prior to the 1994 Games in Lillehammer, American figure skater Tonya Harding planned a vicious attack on her closest rival, Nancy Kerrigan. Harding’s ex-husband, along with her bodyguard, attacked Kerrigan with a metal bar, causing her to miss the US Nationals. (Harding won this competition but was later stripped of her title). Despite her injuries, Kerrigan not only managed to compete in the Games, but achieved a silver medal. Harding only managed eighth place, perhaps due to the media frenzy that surrounded the attack. Harding was later found guilty of conspiring to hinder prosecution of her accomplices, and received three years probation, and a six figure fine. The men involved in the attack received prison sentences.

At the 2002 Salt Lake City Games, two couples in the pairs figure skating event were eventually awarded gold medals, after discrepancies surrounding scoring. Canadian couple Jamie Sale and David Pelletier clearly outperformed their Russian competitors, but were initially awarded second place. The scoring system for every figure skating event thereafter was overhauled.

The 2014 host region is Sochi, a subtropical resort with a Black Sea coastline, making it a strange choice for the Winter Games. It is, however, near to the Caucasus Mountains. Skiing will take place in the mountains of ski resort Roza Khutor near Krasnaya Polyana, around 30 miles from Sochi.

Russia has never hosted the Winter Games before, but it joins just ten other countries lucky enough to be selected. It is the most expensive ever Games, with estimated costs of over $50billion, due to the lack of winter sport facilities, such as ice rinks. These are now situated in the warmer area as they will hold indoor events. Sochi has also suffered from electricity shortages and frequent power cuts, something that has hopefully been addressed.

Quick facts
-Only 12 countries have attended every Winter Games.
-Eddie Eagan, a 1920 boxing gold medallist, is the only person to ever win at both the Winter and Summer Olympics, when he took gold in 1928 at the men’s bobsleigh event.
-For the 1948 St Moritz Games in neutral Switzerland, Germany and Japan were both banned due to their involvement in WWII.
-The opening and closing ceremonies for the 1960 Games in Squaw Valley were produced by Walt Disney.
-Bidders for the 2022 Winter Olympics have recently been announced as Oslo, Krakow, Lviv, Beijing, and Almaty. The result will be announced in 2015.

Olympic stamps

Olympic stamps

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