At the foot of Mont Blanc in Chamonix and Haute-Savoie, France the first Olympic Winter Games were held from January 25 – February 5, 1924. It was then known as “Winter Sports Week” but was officially recognized as the first Olympic Winter Games in 1926. Over 10,000 paying spectators came to cheer on their favorite athletes in 16 events including Bobsled, Curling, Ice Hockey, Skating (Figure and Speed skating) and Nordic skiing (comprised of Military patrol, Cross-Country, Nordic combined and Ski jumping).
The Olympic Winter Games looked much different than they do now – not only in the events they held. At the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, a record of 88 nations competed. At the 1924 Winter Olympics in Chamonix only 16 nations were present. Germany was banned from the games (probably from lingering feelings from World War I). The United States won its first and only gold medal at the games in the very first event.
Charles Jewtraw was born and raised near Lake Placid, New York. Before his Olympic debut, Jewtraw was known as a skilled skater from a young age. Endorsed by Peerless Tube Skates, Jewtraw was described as an “American Champion Speed Skater. In one of their advertisements (produced after 1919 but before 1924), they list Jewtraw’s accomplishments.
Charles Jewtraw, of Lke Placid, N.Y. first achieved skating fame by winning the Junior American Championship. He was never defeated while in this class, holding the title until he reached the junior age limit. . . . In the Eastern championship held at Lake Placid, N.Y. in 1919 he won every heat, semi-final and final in which he started. A Feat Never Before Accomplished. Charles Jewtraw is undoubtedly the fastest skater, either amateur or professional, in America.
He lived up to the hype at the 1924 Winter Games. The five speed skating events and competitions were held on Saturday, January 26th and on Sunday, January 27th. Jewtraw, age 23, competed in three speed skating events alongside twenty-seven speed skaters from 10 nations. The 500m speed skating competition was the very first event of the Games. Jewtraw became the first Winter Games champion by winning the event with a time of 44.0 seconds. He went on to finish 8th in the 1500m and 13th in the 5000m.
Not only did he take home the United States’ (and Winter Olympic’s) first gold medal, his style inspired generations. He, and his U.S. teammate Joe Moore, had a unique arm style while skating. They both utilized the “swinging-arm” style which seems mandatory today with sprint speed skaters. Reportedly, when Norwegian, Finnish and Swedish coaches first saw this style they were left “gaping.” It did not take long for other players and countries to adapt this “swinging-arm” motion.
At the first Winter Games, Jewtraw took home the United States’s only gold medal. Figure skater Beatrix Loughran and the United States men’s national ice hockey team were awarded the silver medals and Ski jumper Anders Haugen took home the country’s sole bronze medal.
What did Jewtraw do after winning perhaps the most elite award for an athlete? He retired from speed skating. Jewtraw then moved to New York City and worked for the A.C. Spalding Sports Goods Company. Unfortunately, that was about all I could find on his later life. He was married to a woman named Natalie and passed away in Palm Beach, Florida on January 26, 1996. He was 95 years old. Jewtraw’s gold medal was donated to the Museum of American History at the Smithsonian Institution.
“AP WAS THERE: At last, Winter gets its own ‘Games‘”, The Associated Press, January 25, 1924.
Keela Rogers, “Olympic Museum: When it comes to hometown heroes, Charles Jewtraw is a legend,” Lake Placid News, December 14, 2012.
Chamonix 1924 Winter Olympics, Olympics.org.