Friday, February 12, 2010

Fire on Ice

Magnet # 166: The Olympic Flame Photo

Material: Laminated Cardboard

Purchased By: Mom & Dad

Tonight, after months of hype, the Winter Olympics in Vancouver will finally kick off. Yes, I realize that this magnet that harkens back to the original Greek Olympics is more appropriate for the Summer Olympics, but I'm just not sure if I'll still be doing this blog in two-and-a-half years when the time would be right. If so, I'll figure out another magnet to post then. This image is also on a postcard my folks sent me during their trip to Greece, although it includes an entire scene that has been cropped out here. I like the photographic restaging - it's interesting to see what people would have looked like during those first Olympic Games.

The winter version of the Olympics doesn't date all the way back to ancient Greece, but to Sweden's Nordic Games, which were first held in 1901.  They were organized by General Viktor Gustaf Balck, a Swedish officer and founding member of the International Olympic Committee.  What he truly wanted was to have winter sports - ice skating in particular - added to the Olympic Games.  Finally, in 1908, Balck got his way when the Summer Olympic games included four skating tournaments.  When it was time to plan the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm, some wanted to add an entire week of winter sports to the games, but they were overruled by those who wanted to keep the Nordic Games separate and those who didn't feel they had the right facilities in which to hold winter sports.  It seemed when the 1916 Berlin Games were being planned that there would finally be a week of "Skiing Olympia" held in the Black Forest, but when World War I broke out, the Olympics were forced to cancel all events.  When the games resumed in 1920, figure skating events were held once again and ice hockey was added to the games, but it wouldn't be until the 1924 that the first Winter Olympic Games would finally debut.  It was then that the "International Winter Sports Week" was held in Chamonix, France.  It lasted 11 days, 16 events were held, and over 200 athletes participated, representing 16 countries.  It was such a huge success that it was retroactively named the first Winter Olympic Games.  They have been held every four years since then, with the exception of 1940 and 1944, when World War II was underway.  In 1994, however, they separated from the Summer Olympics once and for all and were held only two years after the previous games.  Nowadays, the Winter Olympics have their own identity and are truly distinct from the Summer Games.

This year the 21st Winter Olympics will be held.  They have grown so much since those first days - now, there are over 86 different events and more than 80 nations participate.  There are over ten times more participating athletes than those of the first games.  This marks the second time Canada has hosted the Winter Olympics.  The United States has hosted these games four times, which is more than any other country.  To date, Norway has won the most gold medals, with a whopping 98 to their credit.  They are trailed by the United States and Russia, who both have 78.  The U.S. may have a good shot at gold again this year - in the past two games, they've gotten 25 and 36, their most to date.  However, there are two events they have never won.  First, there's the Nordic Combined, an all-male event where a team of five skiers must jump and participate in cross-country skiing (funny, Norway's won that the most times).  And second is the Biathlon, a combination of rifle shooting and cross-country skiing, also done by teams.  Germany tends to dominate this one, followed by Norway.  Maybe they'll have better luck this time.  As for the next Winter Olympic Games, Russia will host them for the first time ever in Sochi.

Some people prefer these games to the Summer Olympics, although they certainly have fewer events and less countries participating.  And with their critical need for snow, there are also far less venues where they can be held - most parts of the continents of South America, Africa, and Australia are pretty much out of the question, for example.  But tonight in America, with snow covering areas that almost never sees it, like Dallas, Texas and shutting down other places like Washington D.C. for days on end, perhaps people in front of their televisions will feel like they're with the athletes in Vancouver.  And, oddly enough, there's been a lack of snow there - trust me, those of us on the East Coast will be happy to send some their way.  But they've been forced to import it so the games can go on, as there is no snowfall in the forecast for them.  So tune in tonight for the Opening Ceremonies if you're so inclined - maybe this will be the year we give Norway a real run for its money!

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