1900 to 1912
A predecessor, the Nordic Games, were organised by General Viktor Gustaf Balck in Stockholm, Sweden in 1901 and were held again in 1903 and 1905 and then every fourth year thereafter until 1926. Balck was a charter member of the IOC and a close friend of Olympic Games founder Pierre de Coubertin. He attempted to have winter sports, specifically figure skating, added to the Olympic programme but was unsuccessful until the 1908 Summer Olympics in London, United Kingdom. Four figure skating events were contested, at which Ulrich Salchow (10-time world champion) and Madge Syers won the individual titles.
Three years later, Italian count Eugenio Brunetta d'Usseaux proposed that the IOC stage a week of winter sports included as part of the 1912 Summer Olympics in Stockholm, Sweden. The organisers opposed this idea because they desired to protect the integrity of the Nordic Games and were concerned about a lack of facilities for winter sports.
World War I
The idea was resurrected for the 1916 Games, which were to be held in Berlin, Germany. A winter sports week with speed skating, figure skating, ice hockey and Nordic skiing was planned, but the 1916 Olympics was cancelled after the outbreak of World War I.
1920 to 1936
The first Olympics after the war, the 1920 Summer Olympics, were held in Antwerp, Belgium, and featured figure skating and an ice hockey tournament. Germany, Austria, Hungary, Bulgaria and Turkey were banned from competing in the Games. At the IOC Congress held the following year it was decided that the host nation of the 1924 Summer Olympics, France, would host a separate "International Winter Sports Week" under the patronage of the IOC. Chamonix was chosen to host this "week" (actually 11 days) of events. The Games proved to be a success when more than 250 athletes from 16 nations competed in 16 events. Athletes from Finland and Norway won 28 medals, more than the rest of the participating nations combined. Germany remained banned until 1925, and instead hosted a series of games called Deutsche Kampfspiele, starting with the winter edition of 1922 (which predated the first Winter Olympics). In 1925 the IOC decided to create a separate winter event and the 1924 Games in Chamonix was retroactively designated as the first Winter Olympics.
St. Moritz, Switzerland, was appointed by the IOC to host the second Winter Games in 1928. Fluctuating weather conditions challenged the hosts. The opening ceremony was held in a blizzard while warm weather conditions plagued sporting events throughout the rest of the Games. Because of the weather the 10,000 metre speed-skating event had to be abandoned and officially cancelled. The weather was not the only noteworthy aspect of the 1928 Games: Sonja Henie of Norway made history when she won the figure skating competition at the age of 15. She became the youngest Olympic champion in history, a distinction she held for 70 years.
The next Winter Olympics held in Lake Placid, New York, was the first to be hosted outside of Europe. Seventeen nations and 252 athletes participated. This was less than in 1928, as the journey to Lake Placid, United States, was long and expensive for most competitors, who had little money in the midst of the Great Depression. The athletes competed in fourteen events in four sports. Virtually no snow fell for two months before the Games, and there was not enough snow to hold all the events until mid-January. Sonja Henie defended her Olympic title, and Eddie Eagan of the United States, who had been an Olympic champion in boxing in 1920, won the gold medal in the men's bobsleigh event to become the first, and so far only, Olympian to have won gold medals in both the Summer and Winter Olympics.
The German towns of Garmisch and Partenkirchen joined to organise the 1936 edition of the Winter Games, held on 6–16 February. This was the last time the Summer and Winter Olympics were held in the same country in the same year. Alpine skiing made its Olympic debut, but skiing teachers were barred from entering because they were considered to be professionals. Because of this decision the Swiss and Austrian skiers refused to compete at the Games.
World War II
World War II interrupted the holding of the Winter Olympics. The 1940 Games had been awarded to Sapporo, Japan, but the decision was rescinded in 1938 because of the Japanese invasion of China. The Games were then to be held at Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, but the 1940 Games were cancelled following the German invasion of Poland in 1939. Due to the ongoing war, the 1944 Games, originally scheduled for Cortina D'Ampezzo, Italy, were cancelled.
1948 to 1960
The opening ceremonies of the 1956 Winter Olympics in Cortina d'Ampezzo
St. Moritz was selected to host the first post-war Games in 1948. Switzerland's neutrality had protected the town during World War II, and most of the venues were in place from the 1928 Games, which made St. Moritz a logical choice. It became the first city to host a Winter Olympics twice. Twenty-eight countries competed in Switzerland, but athletes from Germany and Japan were not invited. Controversy erupted when two hockey teams from the United States arrived, both claiming to be the legitimate U.S. Olympic hockey representative. The Olympic flag presented at the 1920 Summer Olympics in Antwerp was stolen, as was its replacement. There was unprecedented parity at these Games, during which 10 countries won gold medals—more than any Games to that point.
The Olympic Flame for the 1952 Games in Oslo, was lit in the fireplace by skiing pioneer Sondre Nordheim, and the torch relay was conducted by 94 participants entirely on skis. Bandy, a popular sport in the Nordic countries, was featured as a demonstration sport, though only Norway, Sweden, and Finland fielded teams. Norwegian athletes won 17 medals, which outpaced all the other nations. They were led by Hjalmar Andersen who won three gold medals in four events in the speed skating competition.
After not being able to host the Games in 1944, Cortina d'Ampezzo was selected to organise the 1956 Winter Olympics. At the opening ceremonies the final torch bearer, Guido Caroli, entered the Olympic Stadium on ice skates. As he skated around the stadium his skate caught on a cable and he fell, nearly extinguishing the flame. He was able to recover and light the cauldron. These were the first Winter Games to be televised, and the first Olympics ever broadcast to an international audience, though no television rights were sold until the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome. The Cortina Games were used to test the feasibility of televising large sporting events. The Soviet Union made its Olympic debut and had an immediate impact, winning more medals than any other nation. Soviet immediate success might be explained by the advent of the state-sponsored "full-time amateur athlete". The USSR entered teams of athletes who were all nominally students, soldiers, or working in a profession, but many of whom were in reality paid by the state to train full-time. Chiharu Igaya won the first Winter Olympics medal for Japan and the continent of Asia when he placed second in the slalom.
The IOC awarded the 1960 Olympics to Squaw Valley, United States. It was an undeveloped resort in 1955, so from 1956 to 1960 the infrastructure and all of the venues were built at a cost of US$80,000,000. The opening and closing ceremonies were produced by Walt Disney. The Squaw Valley Olympics was the first Winter Games to have a dedicated athletes' village, the first to use a computer (courtesy of IBM) to tabulate results, and the first to feature female speed skating events. The bobsleigh events were absent for the only time due to the cost of building a bobsleigh run.
1964 to 1980
The Austrian city of Innsbruck was the host in 1964. Although Innsbruck was a traditional winter sports resort, warm weather caused a lack of snow during the Games and the Austrian army was enlisted to transport snow and ice to the sports venues. Soviet speed-skater Lidia Skoblikova made history by winning all four speed skating events. Her career total of six gold medals set a record for Winter Olympics athletes. Luge was first contested in 1964, but the sport received bad publicity when a competitor was killed in a pre-Olympic training run.
Held in the French town of Grenoble, the 1968 Winter Olympics were the first Olympic Games to be broadcast in colour. There were 1,158 athletes from 37 nations competing in 35 events. French alpine ski racer Jean-Claude Killy became only the second person to win all the men's alpine skiing events. The organising committee sold television rights for US$2 million, which was more than twice the cost of the broadcast rights for the Innsbruck Games. Venues were spread over long distances requiring three athletes' villages. The organisers claimed that this was necessary to accommodate technological advances, however critics disputed this, alleging that the layout would incorporate the best possible venues for television broadcasts at the athletes' expense.
The 1972 Winter Games, held in Sapporo, Japan, were the first to be hosted on a continent other than North America or Europe. The issue of professionalism was disputed during these Games when a number of alpine skiers were found to have participated in a ski camp at Mammoth Mountain in the United States; three days before the opening ceremony, IOC president Avery Brundage threatened to bar the skiers from competing in the Games as he insisted that they were no longer amateurs having benefited financially from their status as athletes. Eventually only Austrian Karl Schranz, who earned more than the other skiers, was excluded from the competition. Canada did not send teams to the 1972 or 1976 ice hockey tournaments in protest at not being able to use players from professional leagues. Francisco Fernández Ochoa became the first (and, as of 2018, only) Spaniard to win a Winter Olympic gold medal when he triumphed in the slalom.
The 1976 Winter Olympics had initially been awarded in 1970 to Denver, Colorado in the United States. These Games would have coincided with the year of Colorado's centennial and the United States Bicentennial. However, in November 1972 the people of Colorado voted against public funding of the Games by a 3:2 margin. The IOC responded by offering the Games to Vancouver-Garibaldi, British Columbia, which had previously been an official candidate for the 1976 Games. However, a change in the provincial government resulted in an administration that did not support the Olympic bid, so the IOC's offer was rejected. Salt Lake City, previously a candidate for the 1972 Winter Olympics, then put itself forward, but the IOC opted instead to invite Innsbruck to host the 1976 Games, as most of the infrastructure from the 1964 Games had been maintained. Despite only having half the usual time to prepare for the Games, Innsbruck accepted the invitation to replace Denver in February 1973. Two Olympic flames were lit because it was the second time that the Austrian town had hosted the Winter Games. The 1976 Games featured the first combination bobsleigh and luge track, in neighbouring Igls. The Soviet Union won its fourth consecutive ice hockey gold medal.
In 1980 the Winter Olympics returned to Lake Placid, which had hosted the 1932 Games. The first boycott of a Winter Olympics took place at these Games, when Taiwan refused to participate after an edict by the IOC mandated that they change their name and national anthem. This was an attempt by the IOC to accommodate China, who wished to compete using the same name and anthem as those used by Taiwan. As a result, China participated for the first time since 1952. American speed-skater Eric Heiden set either an Olympic or World record in every one of the five events in which he competed, winning a total of five individual gold medals and breaking the record for most individual golds in a single Olympics (both Summer and Winter). Hanni Wenzel won both the slalom and giant slalom and her country, Liechtenstein, became the smallest nation to produce an Olympic gold medallist. In the "Miracle on Ice", the American hockey team composed of college players beat the favoured seasoned professionals from the Soviet Union, and progressed to eventually win the gold medal.[nb 4]
1984 to 1998
Alberto Tomba, winner of five Olympic medals in Calgary, Albertville and Lillehammer
Sapporo, Japan, and Gothenburg, Sweden, were front-runners to host the 1984 Winter Olympics. It was therefore a surprise when Sarajevo, Yugoslavia, was selected as host. The Games were well-organised and not affected by the run-up to the war that engulfed the country eight years later. A total of 49 nations and 1,272 athletes participated in 39 events. Host nation Yugoslavia won its first Olympic medal when alpine skier Jure Franko won silver in the giant slalom. Another sporting highlight was the free dance performance of British ice dancers Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean; their Boléro routine received unanimous perfect scores for artistic impression, earning them the gold medal.
In 1988, the Canadian city of Calgary hosted the first Winter Olympics to span three weekends, lasting for a total of 16 days. New events were added in ski-jumping and speed skating, while future Olympic sports curling, short track speed skating and freestyle skiing made their debut appearance as demonstration sports. The speed skating events were held indoors for the first time, on the Olympic Oval. Dutch skater Yvonne van Gennip won three gold medals and set two world records, beating skaters from the favoured East German team in every race. Her medal total was equalled by Finnish ski jumper Matti Nykänen, who won all three events in his sport. Alberto Tomba, an Italian skier, made his Olympic debut by winning both the giant slalom and slalom. East German Christa Rothenburger won the women's 1,000 metre speed skating event. Seven months later she would earn a silver in track cycling at the Summer Games in Seoul, to become the only athlete to win medals in both a Summer and Winter Olympics in the same year.
The 1992 Winter Games were the last to be held in the same year as the Summer Games. They were hosted in the French Savoie region, with 18 events held in the city of Albertville and the remaining events spread out over the Savoie. Political changes of the time were reflected in the composition of the Olympic teams competing in France: this was the first Games to be held after the fall of Communism and the fall of the Berlin Wall, and Germany competed as a single nation for the first time since the 1964 Games; former Yugoslavian republics Croatia and Slovenia made their debuts as independent nations; most of the former Soviet republics still competed as a single team known as the Unified Team, but the Baltic States made independent appearances for the first time since before World War II. At 16 years old, Finnish ski jumper Toni Nieminen made history by becoming the youngest male Winter Olympic champion. New Zealand skier Annelise Coberger became the first Winter Olympic medallist from the southern hemisphere when she won a silver medal in the women's slalom.
The 1994 Winter Olympics, held in Lillehammer, Norway, were the first Winter Games to be held separately from the Summer Games. This change resulted from the decision reached in the 91st IOC Session (1986) to separate the Summer and Winter Games and place them in alternating even-numbered years. Lillehammer is the northernmost city to ever host the Winter Games and it was the second time the Games were held in Norway, after the 1952 Winter Olympics in Oslo. After the dissolution of Czechoslovakia in 1993, the Czech Republic and Slovakia made their Olympic debuts. The women's figure skating competition drew media attention when American skater Nancy Kerrigan was injured on 6 January 1994, in an assault planned by the ex-husband of opponent Tonya Harding. Both skaters competed in the Games, but the gold medal was controversially won by Oksana Baiul who became Ukraine's first Olympic champion, while Kerrigan won the silver medal. Johann Olav Koss of Norway won three gold medals, coming first in all of the distance speed skating events. 13-year-old Kim Yoon-Mi became the youngest-ever Olympic gold medallist when South Korea won the women's 3,000 meter speed skating relay. Russia won the most events, with eleven gold medals, while Norway achieved 26 podium finishes, collecting the most medals overall on home ground. Juan Antonio Samaranch described Lillehammer as "the best Olympic Winter Games ever" in his closing ceremony speech.
The 1998 Winter Olympics were held in the Japanese city of Nagano and were the first Games to host more than 2,000 athletes. The men's ice hockey tournament was opened to professionals for the first time. Canada and the United States were favoured to win the tournament as they both fielded numerous NHL players, but surprisingly neither team won any medals and it was the Czech Republic who prevailed. Women's ice hockey made its debut and the United States won the gold medal. Bjørn Dæhlie of Norway won three gold medals in Nordic skiing, becoming the most decorated Winter Olympic athlete, with eight gold medals and twelve medals overall. Austrian Hermann Maier survived a crash during the downhill competition and returned to win gold in the super-G and the giant slalom. Tara Lipinski of the United States, aged just 15, became the youngest ever female gold medallist in an individual event when she won the Ladies' Singles, a record that had stood since Sonja Henie of Norway won the same event, also aged 15, in St. Moritz in 1928. New world records were set in speed skating largely due to the introduction of the clap skate.
2002 to 2010
Olympic flame during the Opening Ceremony of the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City
The 2002 Winter Olympics were held in Salt Lake City, United States, hosting 77 nations and 2,399 athletes in 78 events in 7 sports. These Games were the first to take place since the September 11 attacks of 2001, which meant a higher degree of security to avoid a terrorist attack. The opening ceremony saw signs of the aftermath of the events of that day, including the flag that flew at Ground Zero, NYPD officer Daniel Rodríguez singing "God Bless America", and honour guards of NYPD and FDNY members.
German Georg Hackl won a silver in the singles luge, becoming the first athlete in Olympic history to win medals in the same individual event in five consecutive Olympics. Canada achieved an unprecedented double by winning both the men's and women's ice hockey gold medals. Canada became embroiled with Russia in a controversy that involved the judging of the pairs figure skating competition. The Russian pair of Yelena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze competed against the Canadian pair of Jamie Salé and David Pelletier for the gold medal. The Canadians appeared to have skated well enough to win the competition, yet the Russians were awarded the gold. The judging broke along Cold War lines with judges from former Communist countries favouring the Russian pair and judges from Western nations voting for the Canadians. The only exception was the French judge, Marie-Reine Le Gougne, who awarded the gold to the Russians. An investigation revealed that she had been pressured to give the gold to the Russian pair regardless of how they skated; in return the Russian judge would look favourably on the French entrants in the ice dancing competition. The IOC decided to award both pairs the gold medal in a second medal ceremony held later in the Games. Australian Steven Bradbury became the first gold medallist from the southern hemisphere when he won the 1,000 metre short-track speed skating event.
The Italian city of Turin hosted the 2006 Winter Olympics. It was the second time that Italy had hosted the Winter Olympic Games. South Korean athletes won 10 medals, including 6 gold in the short-track speed skating events. Sun-Yu Jin won three gold medals while her teammate Hyun-Soo Ahn won three gold medals and a bronze. In the women's Cross-Country team pursuit Canadian Sara Renner broke one of her poles and, when he saw her dilemma, Norwegian coach Bjørnar Håkensmoen decided to lend her a pole. In so doing she was able to help her team win a silver medal in the event at the expense of the Norwegian team, who finished fourth. On winning the Super-G, Kjetil-Andre Aamodt of Norway became the most decorated ski racer of all time with 4 gold and 8 overall medals. He is also the only ski racer to have won the same event at three different Olympics, winning the Super-G in 1992, 2002 and 2006. Claudia Pechstein of Germany became the first speed skater to earn nine career medals. In February 2009, Pechstein tested positive for "blood manipulation" and received a two-year suspension, which she appealed. The Court of Arbitration for Sport upheld her suspension but a Swiss court ruled that she could compete for a spot on the 2010 German Olympic team. This ruling was brought to the Swiss Federal Tribunal, which overturned the lower court's ruling and precluded her from competing in Vancouver.
A memorial to Nodar Kumaritashvili in Whistler
, photographed on 20 March 2010
In 2003 the IOC awarded the 2010 Winter Olympics to Vancouver, thus allowing Canada to host its second Winter Olympics. With a population of more than 2.5 million people Vancouver is the largest metropolitan area to ever host a Winter Olympic Games. Over 2,500 athletes from 82 countries participated in 86 events. The death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili in a training run on the day of the opening ceremonies resulted in the Whistler Sliding Centre changing the track layout on safety grounds. Norwegian cross-country skier Marit Bjørgen won five medals in the six cross-country events on the women's programme. She finished the Olympics with three golds, a silver and a bronze. For the first time, Canada won a gold medal at an Olympic Games it hosted, having failed to do so at both the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal and the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary. In contrast to the lack of gold medals at these previous Olympics, the Canadian team finished first overall in gold medal wins, and became the first host nation—since Norway in 1952—to lead the gold medal count, with 14 medals. In doing so, it also broke the record for the most gold medals won by a NOC at a single Winter Olympics (the previous was 13, set by the Soviet Union in 1976 and matched by Norway in 2002). The Vancouver Games were notable for the poor performance of the Russian athletes. From their first Winter Olympics in 1956 to the 2006 Games, a Soviet or Russian delegation had never been outside the top five medal-winning nations, but in 2010 they finished sixth in total medals and eleventh in gold medals. President Dmitry Medvedev called for the resignation of top sports officials immediately after the Games. Russia's disappointing performance at Vancouver is cited as the reason behind the implementation of a doping scheme alleged to have been in operation at major events such as the 2014 Games at Sochi. The success of Asian countries stood in stark contrast to the under-performing Russian team, with Vancouver marking a high point for medals won by Asian countries. In 1992 the Asian countries had won fifteen medals, three of which were gold. In Vancouver the total number of medals won by athletes from Asia had increased to thirty-one, with eleven of them being gold. The rise of Asian nations in Winter Olympics sports is due in part to the growth of winter sports programmes and the interest in winter sports in nations such as South Korea, Japan and China.
2014 to 2018
Sochi, Russia, was selected as the host city for the 2014 Winter Olympics over Salzburg, Austria, and Pyeongchang, South Korea. This was the first time that Russia had hosted a Winter Olympics. The Games took place from 7 to 23 February 2014. A record 2,800 athletes from 88 countries competed in 98 events. The Olympic Village and Olympic Stadium were located on the Black Sea coast. All of the mountain venues were 50 kilometres (31 miles) away in the alpine region known as Krasnaya Polyana. The Games were the most expensive so far, with a cost of £30 billion (USD 51 billion).
On the snow, Norwegian biathlete Ole Einar Bjørndalen took two golds to bring his total tally of Olympic medals to 13, overtaking his compatriot Bjørn Dæhlie to become the most decorated Winter Olympian of all time. Another Norwegian, cross-country skier Marit Bjørgen took three golds; her total of ten Olympic medals tied her as the female Winter Olympian with most medals, alongside Raisa Smetanina and Stefania Belmondo. Snowboarder Ayumu Hirano became the youngest medallist on snow at the Winter Games when he took a silver in the halfpipe competition at the age of fifteen. On the ice, the Dutch dominated the speed skating events, taking 23 medals, four clean sweeps of the podium places and at least one medal in each of the twelve medal events. Ireen Wüst was their most successful competitor, taking two golds and three silvers. In figure skating, Yuzuru Hanyu became the first skater to break the 100-point barrier in the short programme on the way to winning the gold medal. Among the sledding disciplines, luger Armin Zöggeler took a bronze, becoming the first Winter Olympian to secure a medal in six consecutive Games.
Following their disappointing performance at the 2010 Games, and an investment of £600 million in elite sport, Russia initially topped the medal table, taking 33 medals including thirteen golds. However Grigory Rodchenkov, the former head of the Russian national anti-doping laboratory, subsequently claimed that he had been involved in doping dozens of Russian competitors for the Games, and that he had been assisted by the Russian Federal Security Service in opening and re-sealing bottles containing urine samples so that samples with banned substances could be replaced with "clean" urine. A subsequent investigation commissioned by the World Anti-Doping Agency led by Richard McLaren concluded that a state-sponsored doping programme had operated in Russia from "at least late 2011 to 2015" across the "vast majority" of Summer and Winter Olympic sports. On 5 December 2017, the IOC announced that Russia would be banned from the 2018 Winter Olympics with immediate effect and by the end of 2017 the IOC Disciplinary Commission had disqualified 43 Russian athletes, stripping thirteen medals and knocking Russia from the top of the medal table, thus putting Norway in the lead.
On 6 July 2011, Pyeongchang, South Korea, was selected to host the 2018 Winter Olympics over Munich, Germany, and Annecy, France. This was the first time that South Korea had been selected to host a Winter Olympics and it was the second time the Olympics were held in the country overall, after the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul. The Games took place from 9 to 25 February 2018. More than 2,900 athletes from 92 countries participated in 102 events. The Olympic Stadium and many of the sports venues were situated in the Alpensia Resort in Daegwallyeong-myeon, Pyeongchang, while a number of other sports venues were located in the Gangneung Olympic Park in Pyeongchang's neighboring city of Gangneung.
The lead-up to the 2018 Winter Olympics was affected by the tensions between North and South Korea and the ongoing Russian doping scandal. Despite tense relations, North Korea agreed to participate in the Games, enter with South Korea during the opening ceremony as a unified Korea, and field a unified team in women's ice hockey. Individual Russian athletes, who qualified and could demonstrate they had complied with the IOC's doping regulations, were given the option to compete neutrally in Pyeongchang as "Olympic Athletes from Russia" (OAR) but they were not allowed to compete under the Russian flag.
The Games saw the addition of big air snowboarding, mass start speed skating, mixed doubles curling, and mixed team alpine skiing to the programme. On the ice, the Netherlands again dominated the speed skating, winning gold medals in seven of the ten individual events. Dutch speed skater Sven Kramer won gold in the men's 5000m event, becoming the only male speed skater to win the same Olympic event three times. On the snow, Norway led the medal tally in cross-country skiing, with Marit Bjørgen winning bronze in the women's team sprint and gold in the 30 kilometre classical event, bringing her total Olympic medal haul to fifteen, the most won by any athlete (male or female) in Winter Olympics history. Johannes Høsflot Klæbo became the youngest ever male to win an Olympic gold in cross-country skiing when he won the men's sprint at age 21. Noriaki Kasai of Japan became the first athlete in history to participate in eight Winter Olympics when he took part in the ski jumping qualification the day before the opening of the Games. Ester Ledecká of the Czech Republic won gold in the skiing super-G event and another gold in the snowboarding parallel giant slalom, making her the first female athlete to win Olympic gold medals in two different sports at a single Winter Games.
Norway led the total medal standings with 39, the highest number of medals by a nation in any Winter Olympics, followed by Germany's 31 and Canada's 29. Host nation South Korea won seventeen medals, their highest medal haul at a Winter Olympics.
The host city for the 2022 Winter Olympics is Beijing, the capital of People's Republic of China, elected on 31 July 2015 at the 128th IOC Session in Kuala Lumpur. Beijing will be the first city ever to have hosted both the Summer and Winter Olympics. The 2022 Winter Olympics will take place between 4 and 20 February 2022.