The Winter Olympics
A preview of the setting and the line-up for the great quadrennial sports tourney
H. H. ROXBOROUGH
IN EARLY February, in the snow-covered valley of Garmisch-Partenkirchen, set between cloud-piercing ranges of the Bavarian Alps, there will be a muster of the world’s most capable winter-sport competitors.
Five hundred athletes from nearly twenty-five countries will participate in the opening parade in the GarmischPartenkirchen Olympic Ice Stadium that will usher in the Fourth Olympic Winter Games.
Included in the entrants will be skilled hockey players from Canada, sensational bobsled racers from the United States, daring ski jumpers from Japan, graceful figure skaters from the capitals of Europe, sturdy racing skiers from the lands of the Vikings, flashing speed skaters from sport-conscious Finland, and canny curlers from Czechoslovakia.
The stage upon which these stars will joust is one of great scenic beauty. The locale is the immediate vicinity of two German villages, Garmisch and Partenkirchen, situated about 400 miles south of Berlin, in a valley 8,500 feet above sea level, rimmed with towering peaks and snow-capped summits.
Beauty alone, however, has not made this mountain valley the site of a winter Olympiad; it has many other natural advantages essential to winter sports. It is noted for its abundant and almost certain snow; the surrounding hills combine long slopes for distance ski races, with steep inclines for shorter speed contests. In its environs is a jewellike lake, sheltered from warm blasts by high mountains and, because of its early freezing and late breaking, admirably suited for speed skating. And what nature overlooked the engineers have provided.
A spectacular bobsled run has been built by Stanislaus Zentzytski, who designed and constructed the courses for both the third and fourth winter Olympics. It begins with a long, straight stretch on a gradual decline; then a tricky loop. After a short, direct slide with increasing speed, the fast-travelling sled must be steered through a labyrinth of five spill-inviting curves which sweep into a defiant horseshoe-shaped bend; then another mile-a-minute spin down an acutely angled icy trail concludes with a final swoop around a dizzy loop.
The course was modelled last summer and the huge curves were constructed in stone. With advent of winter the stone foundations were surfaced with blocks of ice transported from near-by lakes, and the entire runway was iced by experienced workmen from a water main running the entire length of the 1,500-metre sled track.
Elevators were constructed to lift the sleds and the competitors to the starting platform; lofty towers were erected to provide observation posts for the announcers who will describe the progress of the whizzing crews to the listening thousands seated in the stands at the larger curves; telephone communication between start and finish was established; and arrangements were concluded to synchronize the breaking of a thread at the finish line with the timing chronometers.
A Spectacular Ski Jump
SIMILAR CARE was taken with the ski jump. Even the high, steep slopes of the Gudiberg Mountain were not sufficiently acute to carry the profile of a suitable take-off. So the engineers produced a starting tower as high as a fourteen-story skyscraper, and from this lofty platform
1 they projected a thirty-five per cent incline with a length of 225 feet. The run will give the jumpers a speed of fifty miles an hour which will enable them to make jumps of about 250 feet.
Three widely varied courses were prepared for the down-hill ski races so the competitors could not become unduly familiar with any particular one. The course selected for the race would not be announced until the last day.
Spectator enjoyment was assured by reserving certain lakes and hillsides for the sole convenience of those guests who wished to emulate the styles of the international stars.
Then the threats of Old Sol were eliminated by establishing reserve ski courses higher up in the mountains, and by constructing an outdoor artificial-ice stadium suitable for curling, figure skating and hockey, with accommodation for 10,000 spectators.
This stadium has an ice surface 100 feet wide by 200 feet long and it permits the playing of the very best hockey.
YA/TIAT COUNTRIES will dominate the games?
Nations, like individuals, excel in some particular sport and are merely competitors in others. For instance, in the speed skating peculiar to Europeans, Finland, in the 1928 Olympiad, won three of the four men’s speed-skating titles. The Norwegians have never been surpassed in Olympic ski jumping, and even though there were thirtyfour competitors shooting through Lake Placid air in 1932, the entrants from Norway were so good that they captured not only first, but also second and third places. In figureskating honors have been divided in recent years between Norway, Sweden and Austria.
In one sport, the bobsled races, Canada will not be represented, and yet it is an appealing sport and one that should interest us. The four-seater sleds are 12 feet 6 inches long, weigh about 485 ixiunds without a load, and cost around $500. These glorified sleighs are steered like a motor car, with the pilot seated upright in the bow and behind the wheel. A brakesman sits in the stern ready to apply the saw-toothed prongs that retard the sled: the two middlemen serve as balance wheels, while the racers careen around mathematically-designed curves at speeds approaching a mile a minute.
Incidentally, the United States is sending eleven sledders and their team will include the famous Stevens. brothers who defeated Hans Kilian, the renowned German racer, at the Lake Placid Olympiad.
Canada’s contact with ski competitions is closer than that of “bobbers,” for at least we do send entrants to those events in which the long, wooden “snowshoe” is the transporting medium. But again we are impressed with the fact that sport champions come from those who learn the game in childhood.
In the Scandinavian countries, youthful skiers are as common as kid hockevists in the Dominion. So it is not surprising that, over level country, nearly 150 miles has been skimmed in twenty-four hours; that Norwegian ski jumps have exceeded 300 feet; and that experts have been timed in descents over “Flying Kilometres” at speeds ranging around eighty miles an hour.
Against such performances, Canadians are but “slowmotion” competitors; yet we are likely to be represented in the slalom—which is a downhill race around artificial obstacles—in the distance runs, the jumps and the dizzy dash down a mountainside. In our team will be a woman’s group composed of Canadian women who reside in Europe, and it will include Mrs. Lois Butler, who performed creditably in the 1935 Federation Internationale de Ski women’s combined competitions.
While the “sleighers” and the skiers will not invite our national cheers, there are other events such as figure skating, speed skating and ice hockey, in which the lads and lasses bearing the red maple leaf on white jerseys may bring honor to the folks back home.
Indeed, our winter performances have not received due recognition. Consider figure skating. The prevailing opinion is that our Olympic appearances in this sport have been commonplace. Yet in the women’s competitions at Chamonix, St. Moritz and Lake Placid, our competitors have always been included in the first six. In the 1932 meet Mrs. Constance Wilson-Samuel finished fourth in an entry of fifteen; while her brother, Montgomery Wilson, was awarded third place, ahead of the champions of Finland, Germany, the United States, Japan and Czechoslovakia.
Once more the Canadian Olympic Committee lias nominated the talented Wilsons, together with Miss Louise Bertram and Stewart Reburn. While world superiority in the art of figure skating is not probable, it is certain that the performances of this quartette will reflect creditably upon the Dominion.
Canada’s speed skaters have also been capable. In the third Olympiad, the late Jean Wilson earned more points than any other competitor; while the men's team qualified eleven times in four finals, was second only to the United States, and led Norway, Sweden, Finland and Japan.
At the coming Olympiad, the speed skaters from America
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may not do so well, for they will compete under the European system and there is i difference.
In Europe, speed skaters race solely against time. In each heat two skaters start at the same instant from parallel points about ten feet apart, and at one point the routes intersect. Each entrant is timed separately, so that the second man in a fast heat may be rated higher than the winner of a slower race.
The old-world system hás many disadvantages. Early starters may race on keen ice without a hindering wind, whereas the skaters who race an hour later may be handicapped by sun-softened ice badly cut by previous competitors, and may even be compelled to battle through a blizzard. Thus, where time alone is the consideration, later starters may be conquered by insurmountable handicaps before the gun is fired.
The American plan does seem more equable. The entrants are divided into numerically equal groups, all the starters in one group meet identical problems of ice, weather and pace; then the placers meet in semi-final and final heats. Thus strategy, timing, consistency and speed are the requisite requirements.
While the layman might suppose that if a skater has the necessary speed he could win on any continent, the facts are that in 1928, under the European plan, not a single American won a first place in the four events; while similarly in 1932, under the American system, not a single old-world competitor won a title.
In former years, even Charlie Gorman, of Saint John, N.B., and Ross Robinson, of Toronto, champions of Canada and the United States and also holders of worlds records, could not alter their styles and were beaten.
Whether or not the 1936 Canadians can succeed where others have failed is one of those problems that are solved only on race day.
Indeed, shortage of funds may even prevent Dominion participation, for speed skating is not a lucrative pastime. However, Alex Hurd, Frank Stack, Herb Flack and Tom White are strong competitors, and if they do travel to Germany they will be serious contenders in the four championship races.
What About Hockey?
OUT REGARDLESS of our success or
failure in other forms of winter competition, you may be sure that when the thousands of spectators wend their way toward the Bavarian Artificial Ice Stadium, the name of Canada will be on all lips for Canada has never lost a game in Olympic hockey. In 1920, at Antwerp, the Winnipeg Falcons won the world’s amateur hockey title in an uninterrupted series of victories. At Chamonix, in the French Alps, in 1924, Toronto Granites defeated seven other nations by 110 goals to 3 and were declared the first Olympic champions. Four years later at St. Moritz, high in the Swiss Alps, the University of Toronto Grads were so outstanding that the Olympic organizers divided the other nine nations into three groups, arranged for each group to declare a champion, and then persuaded the Canadians to meet each pool winner in a final series. The Grads accepted the unusual proposal, and defeated the three challenging teams by 11 to 0, 13 to 0, and 14 to 0.
At Lake Placid, in 1932, teams were fewer but stronger. Once more a Winnipeg team was Canada’s representative, and with the exception of one 2 to 2 game played against the United States, the Canadian record of victories was maintained and the Olympic championship retained.
This year, sixteen nations have expressed their intention to compete in hockey. Hockey has become something of a craze in Europe and the importance that it has assumed in the minds of European sportsmen is indicated by the fact that it is mentioned in the Olympic programme no less than twenty times. Keen as they are, though, it is unlikely that the Europeans will be able to “ice” teams of a calibre of those that will be sent from North America.
Despite Canada’s past successes, however, this year’s title is by no means “in the bag.” We have the United States to reckon with, and it should not be forgotten that the first match against the States at Lake Placid in 1932 went overtime before Canada won, and that the second match remained tied after three scoreless overtime periods.
Unquestionably, the Dominion still produces the world’s best puck-chasers; but our natural hockey resources are being exploited and exported. British, European and United States “amateur” clubs have imported many of our promising crop, while more than 400 mature native sons are scattered among the professional teams. All these stars are naturally unavailable for Olympic duty.
Moreover, the United States selects its team from the outstanding players regardless of club affiliations, while Canada nominates an organized team which it occasionally strengthens with two or three additions from “outside.”
The Canadian custom has always been to enter the club winning the Allan Cup, emblematic of national amateur championship, in the pre-Olympic year. But this time the usual procedure required amending. The 1934-35 Dominion champions were Halifax Wolverines, and it was originally intended that the Maritime representatives should take the trip to the Bavarian stadium. However, a couple of the players signed professional contracts, others left Halifax to trade hockey ability for regular jobs, even the coach had departed. So, with only a remnant of the Allan Cuppers available, the hockey leaders wisely defied tradition and nominated the Port Arthur club, which was a participant in last year’s final games.
Few impartial observers will doubt the wisdom of the move. Port Arthur has always been the recruiting centre for exceptional teams, and is the only club to win the Canadian title on three occasions.
Such a belief is, of course, founded on the sands of opinion; but it is generally agreed that the Bear Cats are sturdy, speedy, spectacular, and skilled in the art of goal-getting. Moreover, they are experienced, very “teamy,” and with the inclusion of last year’s centre player, who is now in England, will be able to present an unbroken line-up to the challenging nations.
So, with the Port Arthur team intact and aided by a sprinkling of specially invited shooting stars, Canadians can look forward to a possible extension of that long line of Olympic ice-hockey championships which have enhanced the reputation of the Dominion in every country where puck-chasing is a winter sport.