The First Olympic Winter Sports Champions

The first thing you may have noticed about this blog entry is the title. Not “The first Winter Olympic champions” but specifically “The first Olympic winter sports Champions”. The reason is simple – before the creation of the Winter Games some of the events that were to become part of the winter Olympic programme were held at the Summer Games. Figure skating first appeared at the 1908 Games in London but all winter sports were dropped from the 1912 programme following protests by Scandinavian nations who wished to promote their own Nordic Games. Figure skating returned in 1920 alongside the new sport of ice hockey and this paved the way for the Chamonix Winter Olympics of 1924 to happen.
But who were those first figure skating champions of 1908? Take a look at their biographies below.
Full results from the 1908 Olympic figure skating tournament can be found at http://www.sports-reference.com/olympics/summer/1908/FSK/

Ulrich Salchow (SWE)
Olympic champion – men

Ulrich Salchow was one of the most successful figure skaters of all-time and dominated figure skating in the early 1900s. His name was given to the figure skating jump “Salchow” that he performed for the first time in 1909. He was a specialist of the now defunct compulsories, which accounted for a large percentage of the total marks.
Salchow won 10 World Championships, 1901-05 and 1907-11. He did not compete in the 1906 World Championships that were held in Munich, as he feared that he would not be judged fairly against Gilbert Fuchs of Germany. His 10 titles are still a record, which he shares with Sonja Henie and Irina Rodnina. When figure skating was first contested at the Summer Olympics in London in 1908, Salchow won the title with ease. In addition, Salchow won the European Championships a record nine times (1898-1900, 1904, 1906-07, 1909-10, 1913), placed second in the World Championships three times (1897, 1899-1900) and once at the European Championships (1901). In his early career he was Swedish national champion in 1895-97. In 1976, he was inducted into the Figure Skating World Hall of Fame.
Salchow could not defend his Olympic gold medal at Stockholm in 1912 because organizers opted out of holding skating contests. When he made one last attempt at the Olympics in 1920, it ended in a fall, ironically while attempting his own jump, the Salchow. Despite this, the then 42-year-old managed to place fourth. In 1906, he published a handbook of skating, which was translated into several languages. He was also active in other sports, including cycling and bobsledding.
After his active career Salchow was President of the International Skating Union from 1925-37 and Chairman of the AIK in Stockholm from 1928-39. He was also chairman of the Swedish Cycling Association (1904-07), Swedish Skating Association (1917-20, 1923-32, 1935-38), and helped to found the Swedish Boxing Federation, where he was chairman from 1919-32, and he was a member of the board of the National Sports Confederation (1911-28).
Salchow was an active yachtsman and worked for the Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter and Associated Press as a journalist. He was on the board of the Swedish Radio and a successful merchant and radio pioneer.

Nikolay Panin (Kolomenkin) (RUS)
Olympic champion – men’s special figures

As a youth Nikolay Kolomenkin did rowing, cycling, athletics and gymnastics and was introduced to figure skating after 1893, when he enrolled at St. Petersburg University (now St. Petersburg State University). Kolomenkin was fascinated by this new sport and soon became the top Russian figure skater at the turn of 20th century. But for fear of fellow student’s mocking him, Kolomenkin competed in figure skating under the pseudonym Nikolay Panin and used this name throughout his competitive figure skating career.

In 1908 Kolomenkin became the first Russian Olympic winner when he won the special figures event at the London Olympics. Kolomenkin also won silver at the 1903 World Championships in singles, another silver at the 1908 European Championships, and bronze at the 1904 European Championships. He also won the Russian singles title from 1901-05 and 1907. While studying at university, Kolomenkin was an all-around athlete, competing in cycling, rowing, athletics, swimming, skiing and played football and hockey.

After graduating university with a mathematics degree in 1898, Kolomenkin became a competent sports shooter, winning 23 Russian titles in pistol shooting (1906-17). He also competed at the 1912 Olympics as a shooter, finishing eighth in individual free pistol and fourth in team pistol. After winning his Olympic title, Kolomenkin retired from competitive figure skating and worked as a figure skating coach. From 1915-17 Kolomenkin was general secretary of the Russian Olympic Committee and from 1919-30 worked in various financial positions with the Petrograd (later Leningrad) province and oblast governments. From 1933 until his death, Kolomenkin worked as head of the figure skating department at the Lesgaft State Institute of Physical Culture (now Lesgaft National State University of Physical Education, Sport and Health).

Madge Syers (GBR)
Olympic champion – women

Florence Madeline Cave, known to her friends “Madge” was one of fifteen children of Edward Jarvis Cave, a gentleman of independent means. Like many young girls in her position, she joined fashionable London Society at the Prince’s Skating Rink in Knightsbridge, but unlike most of her contemporaries, Madge took her skating seriously and it was through the sport that she met her future husband, Edgar Syers. Syers, who was 19 years her senior, wielded a considerable influence on Madge Caves development as a skater. He encouraged her to forsake the outdated “English” style with its minimal body movement, and in which she had won the 1899 Challenge Shield, and adopt the free and flowing “International’ style of skating. Madge Caves soon became the world’s leading woman skater. She won the first British pairs competition in 1899 with her future husband. The following year Madge and Edgar Syers were married and soon afterwards they finished second in one of the first international pairs competitions in Berlin.
Although the newly married couple was a formidable combination in pairs competitions, it was in individual events that Madge Syers really shone. As there was no rule prohibiting women from competing, she created a sensation by entering the World Championships in 1902 where – even more sensationally – she finished second to the great Ulrich Salchow of Sweden. The authorities immediately barred women from the championships, but in 1905 the ban was rescinded and the following year a separate ladies’ event was introduced at the world championships. Madge easily won this event in 1906 and 1907, but it was not until 1920 that these events were retroactively recognized as official world championships. She also won the first British singles championship in 1903, finishing ahead of Horatio Torromé, and in 1904 she defeated her husband to retain the title. With this record, Madge Syers was a clear favorite for the 1908 Olympic women’s singles and with all five judges placing her a clear first in both the compulsory figures and the free skating, she was an undisputed winner of the gold medal. She also won a bronze medal partnering her husband in the pairs event. After the 1908 Olympics, Madge Syers, who was also a prize winning swimmer and equestrienne, retired because of ill health and she died at the early age of 35.

Annie Hübler and Heinrich Burger (GER)
Olympic champion – pairs

In 1908 Annie Hübler and Heinrich Burger were the first Germans to won the pairs World Championship and they were the first German winter-sport Olympic Champions. They repeated as World Champions in 1910, and won German titles in 1907 and 1909.
Burger was also successful as a singles skater, winning three German Championships in 1904, and 1906-07. He was also runner-up at the World Championships in 1904 and 1906, and third in 1908. In 1905 he was runner-up at the European Championships. Burger later became a figure skating judge, serving on the jury at the 1928 Winter Olympics. He was a lawyer by profession.
Hübler later became an actress and a singer at the Bremen Town Theatre and the München Chamber Theatre. After her marriage to Ernst Horn, she managed the major department store “Horn” in München at the famous town square “Stachus”, which, with more than 1,000 employees, was the third largest catalogue company in Germany in that era. In 1969 she was awarded the Officer’s Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany.

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