The first gold medal to be awarded at the inaugural Winter Olympics is housed at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History. U.S. speedskater Charles Jewtraw earned it at the 1924 Games in Chamonix, France, when he completed the men’s 500-meter race in 44 seconds. The win inspired fellow Lake Placid, New York, speedskater Jack Shea so deeply that he prayed for the opportunity to replicate the success of his idol.
Eight years after Jewtraw’s record-setting win, Shea became the first U.S. athlete to win multiple gold medals at a single Winter Games when he won both the 500- and 1,500-meter races held in his hometown. When the Olympics returned to Lake Placid in 1980, Eric Heiden had arguably the single greatest performance at an Olympic Games, when he set five Olympic records and one world record while winning all five races he entered. Eight years later, Bonnie Blair started her run of Olympic brilliance, winning the first of her six total medals.
But podiums once dominated by red, white and blue have been anything but at recent Games.
Speedskating is one of six sports to appear at every Winter Olympics, though women’s events weren’t added until 1960. Short track speed skating, popularized in the U.S. by eight-time Olympic medalist Apolo Anton Ohno, was introduced at the 1992 Albertville Olympics. Thanks to legendary skaters like Heiden and Blair (both five-time gold medalists), speedskating has accounted for more U.S. Olympic medals than any winter sport.
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However, only one of the country’s 27 most recent gold medals — and five of its past 88 medals overall — at the Winter Olympics came in the long track events.