Mike Rowbottom ©ITG

There was a spot of good news for British curling shortly before the 2006 Winter Olympics - and it was only 82 years late.

After a review of what turned out to have been the first Winter Games - the 24th version of which starts this Friday (February 4) in Beijing - the International Olympic Committee (IOC) upgraded the gold medals won by the British team at Chamonix in 1924 from demonstration to official status.

The IOC had agreed to look into the matter after the Glasgow Herald filed a claim on behalf of the families of the team.

The all-Scottish line-up had comprised father and son Willie and Laurence Jackson, Robin Welsh and Tom Murray.

The quartet beat Sweden 38-7 and France 46-4 in outdoor matches lasting 18 ends but were not allowed to defend their title as curling was removed from the Games, eventually making a re-appearance at the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics.

It was a retrospective flourish that raised Britain’s total of Winter Olympic gold medals to eight.

But in fact every gold medallist in Chamonix that winter became Olympic champion retrospectively.

For it was not until 1925, at the IOC’s Prague Congress, that the "international week of winter sports" was deemed to have been the first of the Winter Olympic Games – the first of a "distinct cycle" of events that would take place as entities separate from the summer Games that had begun in 1896.

For Baron Pierre de Coubertin the idea of having a Winter Olympics turned from being a
For Baron Pierre de Coubertin the idea of having a Winter Olympics turned from being a "problem" into something he was eager to see coming to pass - which it did, retrospectively, in 1924 ©Getty Images

The auguries for this wintry emergence had hardly been favourable. Early in the 20th century none other than Baron Pierre de Coubertin, progenitor of the modern Games, suggested that a Winter Games were not wanted "at any price" - albeit that ice skating had been included in a list of "desirable" sports when the Olympic Movement got moving in 1894.

By 1921, however, the Winter Games had evolved in de Coubertin’s thinking to a "problem" that urgently needed addressing. The problem was that winter sports were growing hugely in popularity.

The Summer Olympics had already accommodated ice skating, which was included on the programme of the London Games in 1908, although four years later Stockholm, despite the prowess of their own skaters, turned down the opportunity of staging the discipline claiming it had no suitable venue.

However, skating was due to return for the planned 1916 Games in Berlin as well as a skiing festival in the Black Forest, and when the first post-war Olympics were held in Antwerp in 1920 both skating and ice hockey were on the programme.

The 1921 IOC Session included a report from winter sports representatives against a social background in which the winter resorts of France and Switzerland were becoming increasingly popular and fashionable.

"In the last twenty-five years, winter sports had not only developed in a number of other countries but they were so truly amateur, so frank and so pure in their sporting dignity that their complete exclusion from the Olympic programme deprived it of much force and value," De Coubertin wrote.

The discussions which took place in Lausanne revealed a difference of opinion between the representatives of Switzerland, France and Canada and the Scandinavians. The Norwegian delegates had agreed in advance to speak on behalf of the Swedes.

When the IOC Session convened, De Coubertin persuaded the IOC to accept Paris as the host city for the 1924 Summer Olympics.

Competitors being taken up to the bobsleigh track at the 1924 Winter Olynpics in the French resort of Chamonix ©Getty Images
Competitors being taken up to the bobsleigh track at the 1924 Winter Olynpics in the French resort of Chamonix ©Getty Images

But, as my colleague Philip Barker has written on this site: "Two French IOC members, the Comte Justinien de Clary and the Marquis de Polignac came forward to inform the Session of 'the desire of France to organise a winter sports week and to see this event connected in some way with the Olympic Games.'

"The IOC expressed concerns that 'it was obviously contrary to the essential regulations of the Games to introduce competitions which could not be held in the same place and at the same time.'

"Eventually, after lengthy discussions, the IOC decided to support an event to be held in the resort of Chamonix in early 1924. It would be held 'on the occasion of the Olympics but not be an integral part.'"

The winter sports week held in Chamonix proved successful and at their conclusion de Coubertin commented: "I think many of us would not rest easy if I failed to take this opportunity to express the admiration and gratitude that the efforts made to assure the greatest degree of technical perfection at this first Olympic tournament of winter sports inspire in us.

"Winter sports are amongst the purest and that is why I was so eager to see them take their place in a definitive way amongst Olympic events."

Fast forward to the 1925 Prague Congress, where the IOC decided de Coubertin had a point and the events that had taken place in Chamonix became regarded as the first in a series…

Olympic programmes are flexible. And of course Olympic events are flexible. Even today a working party set up by the International Modern Pentathlon Union into finding a post-Paris 2024 replacement for riding - removed for reasons that are still unclear and without reference to the pentathlete community - is actively considering variants including drone racing and pillow fighting.

As it so happens, professional pillow fighting is currently making its pay-per-view debut with an event organised by Pillow Fight Championship (PFC) in Florida.

The PFC event will largely feature amateur boxers and mixed martial artists and sees athletes compete over three rounds.

"It is not something where you sit there and laugh and feathers are flying," PFC chief executive Steve Williams told Reuters.

"It is serious - it is hardcore swinging with specialised pillows."

Hardcore swinging - it certainly does sound serious.

Tug-of-war was one of the events that has been dropped from the Olympic programme of the Summer Games ©Getty Images
Tug-of-war was one of the events that has been dropped from the Olympic programme of the Summer Games ©Getty Images

The Summer Games has seen many events arrive - and disappear. Since the first modern Olympics of 1896 sports which have been dropped include croquet, cricket, Jeu de Paume, pelota, polo, roque, rackets, tug-of-war, lacrosse and motor boating.

The Winter Games have remained relatively stable over the years, although events such as bandy and sled dog racing each had their day at a single Olympics, respectively in 1952 and 1932.

Back in the simpler days of actual viewing in 1924 nine sporting disciplines were on offer at the - initially - self-styled international week of winter sports in the French resort at the foot of Mont Blanc.

Figure skating, speed skating, ice hockey and curling were all held outdoors along with bobsleigh, cross-country skiing, jumping, nordic combined and an event called the military ski patrol, similar to the biathlon.

Just two years short of a century further on, the Beijing 2022 Games are offering 15 disciplines within seven sports.

In July 2018, the IOC announced changes to the programme as part of a goal to increase the participation of women and to appeal to younger audiences.

Seven new medal events were added - expanding the total Beijing 2022 programme to 109 events - in the form of men's and women's big air freestyle, women's monobob, mixed team competitions in freestyle skiing aerials, ski jumping, and snowboard cross and a mixed relay in short track speed skating.

As so often in future Winter Olympics, it was ice hockey which rounded off the programme in 1924.

That said, the last medal event could be said to have been mountaineering - alpinisme - as at the closing of the Games a prize was awarded to Charles Granville Bruce, leader of the British expedition that had attempted to climb Mount Everest in 1922.

And then again, the intervention of 2006 meant, strictly speaking, that curling provided the last gold of the Games.

But while this topic may be debateable there is no doubt about who became the first gold medallist at a Winter Olympic Games.

That distinction fell to United States speed skater Charles Jewtraw, who - to his own considerable surprise - claimed victory in the opening 500 metres event that began at 10am on January 26, 1924 on the rink of the Olympic Stadium built on the banks of the River Arve.

Jewtraw, 23, came from Lake Placid, which would host the 1932 and 1980 editions of the Winter Olympics. He had never competed over 500 metres before as the equivalent distance in the sprint in the United States was 440 yards.

The competition in Chamonix - as is still the case today - was also contested in pairs against the clock, whereas American races took place in a pack, with five or six competitors together.

Norway's 11-year-old Sonja Heine was a big hit in the figure skating at the 1924 Winter Games and would go on to win three consecutive Olympic titles ©Getty Images
Norway's 11-year-old Sonja Heine was a big hit in the figure skating at the 1924 Winter Games and would go on to win three consecutive Olympic titles ©Getty Images

Recalling his historic deed for the December 1983 edition of Sports Illustrated magazine, Jewtraw said.

"It was like a fairy tale. I was a poor boy from Lake Placid. I'd been national champion but I'd retired from skating. I wanted to move on. I was being tutored for Bowdoin College - I'd never finished high school, but I wanted my education.

"Then I got a telegram saying we would send an Olympic team to France. I hadn't trained at all. I didn't want to go. My tutor convinced me I should. I was so sick crossing the ocean that I kept praying the ship would sink. I wasn't even nervous the day of the race. Why would I be? I knew I couldn't win."

According to the official report: "The competitors did a lap of the Chamonix track, measuring 400 metres, plus a distance of 100 metres. The flag was dropped to start the race, each skater competed on a special, clearly marked track and changed lane at each turn to take advantage of the smallest bend.

"Thirty-one competitors, representing 13 nations, were involved in this event, 27 started, showing the importance of this meeting…"

Norway’s Roald Larsen, his fellow countryman Oskar Olsen and the Swede, Clas Thunberg, were the pre-race favourites. Jewtraw skated in the 15th pairing against the Canadian Charles Gorman.

He told Sports Illustrated: "I was always great on starts, but Gorman got the jump on me. He was going like a cyclone. I was in the outside lane, and I knew we had to change lanes somewhere down the line. I hadn't watched any heats before ours, so I couldn't figure out how it would happen.

"But somehow it did, and after we changed I was ahead. I have no idea how it happened. We were screaming along, and then I got a second wind. I didn't dare look behind to see where Gorman was. I beat him by a second and a half. He told me he was completely exhausted. I had emptied him out."

Jewtraw clocked 44.00sec, with Olsen taking silver on 44.2 and Larsen and Thunberg sharing the bronze medal on 44.8.

"I stood in the middle of the rink, and they played The Star-Spangled Banner," Jewtraw, who died in 1996 aged 95, added: "The whole American team rushed out on the ice. They hugged me like I was a beautiful girl. Oh my God... My team-mates threw me in the air.

"The loudspeakers were booming out in French, ‘Charlie Jewtraw of the U.S. of A. wins the first race in the first Winter Games!’ How many people have a moment like that?"

Charles Jewtraw of the United States becomes the first Winter Olympic Games champion at Chamonix in 1924 with a winning run in the 500m speed skating event ©Getty Images
Charles Jewtraw of the United States becomes the first Winter Olympic Games champion at Chamonix in 1924 with a winning run in the 500m speed skating event ©Getty Images

That particular moment was historically unique - but similar ones occurred in the careers of other retrospective Winter Olympians in Chamonix such as Gillis Grafstrom of Sweden, who became the first athlete to successfully defend his Summer Olympic title at the Winter Olympics having won a figure skating gold medal at the 1920 Antwerp Games.

And while she got nowhere near a medal in the ladies’ figure skating, Norway’s 11-year-old Sonja Henie was a huge hit with the fans as she finished eighth and last.

The gold on this occasion went to Austria’s Herma Szabo, but Henie would go on to win the Olympic title at the next three consecutive Games before becoming one of the highest-paid of Hollywood film stars in the late 1930s and early 1940s.

Jewtraw meanwhile recorded his name in the Olympic Games record book as the first winner of a gold medal at the Olympic Winter Games. This book, along with his medal, is on display today in the galleries of the National Museum of American History at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC.

He is also honoured in the Olympic Museum in Lake Placid, accompanied by other great American speed skaters.

And so the sporting world turns to the 24th Winter Olympics in Beijing, knowing that, despite so many challenging and dismaying circumstances attached to this latest version of the Games, there will be athletes who are about to experience similar moments of joy to those Jewtraw described. Which should be what it is all about…