As Lake Placid gears up for winter, the staff at the Lake Placid Olympic Museum is getting ready for an exciting Olympic season. While planning ahead for new exhibits, we have been rearranging artifacts in the gallery and updating existing exhibits. Thankfully this has given us the opportunity to research and improve our display on demonstration sports, an often overlooked area of the Olympic Games.
A once popular aspect of the Games which has fallen out of fashion in recent decades was the addition of demonstration sports. Introduced at the 1912 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, demonstration sports were included on the Olympic program but were not considered official, and their medals were not included in the medal count. Following 1912, most organizing committees would decide to incorporate at least one demonstration sport at each edition of the Games and were most often a popular or native sport of the host country. At the 1932 Olympic Winter Games in Lake Placid, curling, sled-dog racing and women's speed skating were all competed in as a demonstration sport.
Curling was included in the Olympic program in 1924 at the first Winter Games in Chamonix, France. However, it was dropped at the following Games and then re-introduced as a demonstration sport in 1932 in Lake Placid. One of the world's oldest team sports, curling is played by two teams of four players on a rectangular sheet of ice. It originated in 16th century in Scotland, where games were played on frozen ponds and lochs. In the early 20th century, curling came to the Lake Placid Club where the tennis courts were flooded to offer curling to their guests. Despite its fairly recent popularity in North America, eight teams representing Canada and the United States decided to compete in the demonstration sport at the 1932 Winter Games. Between 1932 and 1992, curling was staged at the Games as a demonstration sport. It was in Nagano in 1998 that it finally became an official event, with both men's and women's competitions.
1932 Olympic Winter Games, Canadian women’s speed skaters
Unlike curling, sled-dog racing is indigenous to North America and had, for many years, been a popular part of winter sports in Lake Placid. Because of its history and popularity, sled-dog racing was chosen as a demonstration sport for the 1932 Winter Olympics. It was the first time, and so far the only time, that sled-dog racing has appeared on the Olympic program. Thirteen teams from the United States and Canada entered the dog-derby competitions. A team consisted of seven dogs, six harnessed and a lead dog ahead. Each team hauled a typical dog sled on which the driver could ride a grueling 25-mile course which had to be run twice on two successive days. The total time for both runs decided placement.
Though women in North America and Europe had been competing in speed skating for many years, women's speed skating was not recognized by the International Skating Union as an official sport until 1931. It was at the persistence of Godfrey Dewey, president of the III Olympic Winter Games, that the International Olympic Committee approved the event for the 1932 Winter Games. Ten contestants were entered; five from Canada and five from the United States. Distances of 500, 1,000 and 1,500 meters were raced. The women played by the same rules as the men and even competed on the same track. All of the existing women's world records were broken at this demonstration. The only other women who were able to compete at the Games in Lake Placid were female figure skaters.
Often, demonstration sports became a part of the official Olympic program after several runs as an exhibition. For instance, it was not until 1960 at Squaw Valley that women's speed skating was added to the Olympic program where our very own hometown hero, Jeanne Ashworth, won bronze in the 500-meter event. At the 1924, 1928, 1936 and 1948 Winter Games, an event called "Military Patrol" was competed in as a demonstration sport. This combination of cross-country skiing and rifle marksmanship debuted on the official program at the 1980 Winter Olympics under the name Biathlon. Not all demonstration sports have been so lucky, however. Some summer sports such as cannon shooting and pigeon racing never quite caught on.
To learn more about the history of demonstration sports, visit the Lake Placid Olympic Museum and stay tuned for more information on our upcoming exciting new exhibits and programs.
The museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas and Ironman Sunday. For more information about the Lake Placid Olympic Museum, see our Facebook page or visit our website at www.LPOM.org.