Category Archives: Military ski patrol

The forgotten gold medal

 Back in 2006, The Herald (Glasgow) started an investigation into the 1924 Olympic curling competition. While the British team (all from the RCCC in Perth, Scotland) had won the event and had earned the same medals as other competitors, the event was later frequently listed as a demonstration sport, and it was not included on the IOC website. The IOC resolved this issue in 2006, reconfirming 82 years after the fact that the Scotsmen were in fact Olympic champions. They also resolved another gold medal from Chamonix Games, although this largely went unnoticed.

The 1924 Winter Olympics were, at that time, not officially called Winter Olympics, although many newspapers referred to them that way at the time. They were an experiment, held under supervision of the IOC and staged by the same organization that ran the Summer Olympics in Paris later that year. Only in 1926, with the experiment deemed a success, were these events officially recognized as Olympic. For two sports, however, the winners disappeared from the record books. In both cases, this is likely because they did not return as medal sports in 1928. Curling, for example, only became a medal sport again in 1998, although it was demonstrated in 1932, 1988 and 1992 (and the related German eisstockschießen was demonstrated in 1936 and 1964).

The second sport that fell into oblivion was the military ski patrol. This competition can be considered a forerunner of modern day biathlon, which became Olympic in 1960. It consisted of a four-man team – all of them soldiers – who would ski a 30 km course. Along the way, there were 18 targets set up at 250 m from the course. Three skiers were allowed to take shots; every hit would mean 30 seconds subtracted from the finishing time.  A variant of this competition would later also be held in biathlon, called the team event (not to be confused with the relay).

In Chamonix, the Swiss team won the gold medal. The quartet had the fastest time, and hit 8 targets. While the Finnish group managed 11 targets, their time was not fast enough to threaten the Swiss gold. France placed third with a team that featured Camille Mandrillon, taker of the Olympic oath at those Games.

In 1928, the military ski patrol returned to the Olympics, but this time it was marked as a demonstration sport. The Swiss attempted to defend their title, but were bested by Norway and Finland. The 1936 edition was won by the Italians, who narroly defeated Finland, with Sweden in third. The sport’s final appearance came in 1948. The Swiss repeated their 1924 victory, while Finland placed second for the fourth time, Sweden again taking third place. None of these events held medal status, but a more modern version of the sport, biathlon, was held in Squaw Valley and has been part of the Winter Games since.