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When the modern Olympics began in Athens, Greece, in 1896, only traditional summer sports like swimming and running events were included. In 1901, the first world competition in cold weather sports such as ice hockey, ski jumping, and figure skating took place at the Nordic Games, but only Scandinavian athletes competed.
Taking advantage of the increasing popularity of figure skating, the sport was added to the 1908 Summer Olympics schedule in London. Although most events were held at White City Stadium in Shepherd's Bush, figure skating took place at an indoor ice rink in Knightsbridge. As the only "winter" event on the schedule, the figure skating competition wasn’t held until October of that year, many months after all of the other events had concluded. This made the 1908 Olympics the longest Games in history, spanning 187 days from beginning to end.
Figure skating would be absent from the Games until Antwerp 1920. The sport would soon become a mainstay of the Winter Olympics, which took place for the first time at Chamonix in 1924.
A look back at 1908:
- Twenty-one athletes from six countries, including the Russian Empire and the United States, competed in figure skating. Alongside famed skaters like Ulrich Salchow of Sweden and Nikolai Panin-Kolomenkin of Russia, 47-year-old Horatio Torrome became the only Argentinean figure skater to compete at the Games.
- Skaters competed for medals in mixed pairs, men's singles, ladies' singles, and men's "special figures,” an event that required skaters to perform different skills, such as carving figures on the ice while skating on one leg. This odd event was never included again at the Games.
- The 1908 Games were notable for a number of firsts. 1908 was the first time athletes entered the stadium behind their nation’s flag. It was also the first time all winners were awarded medals (previously, some had simply received diplomas). And it was the last time that the host country provided all of the judges and timekeepers, amid allegations of favoritism.