1932 Winter Olympics


Competition type Olympic Games
Host city (Venues)
Opening ceremony 4 February
Closing ceremony 13 February
Competition dates 4 – 15 February
Participants 252 from 17 countries
Medal events 14 in 7 disciplines
Other events 10 in 4 disciplines


The 1932 Olympic Winter Games were held in the small upstate New York village of Lake Placid. The idea of bringing the Winter Olympics to Lake Placid was primarily the brainchild of Godfrey Dewey. Dewey’s father was Melvil Dewey, who had founded the Dewey Decimal System, but who had also helped found the Lake Placid Club in 1895. Originally a summer resort, in 1904 Melvil Dewey decided to open the club for winter activities and it became famous for its winter sports.

Godfrey Dewey attended the 2nd Olympic Winter Games in St. Moritz, Switzerland, where he was the United States’ ski team manager and carried the American flag at the Opening Ceremony. He became convinced that Lake Placid could organize a Winter Olympics, and gave his first public speech on the idea on 21 March 1928, to the local Kiwanis Club. In July, the Chamber of Commerce guaranteed a bond of $50,000 to support the bid. Several other American towns also tried to win the bid, as well as Montréal. But at the IOC Session in Lausanne, Switzerland, on 10 April 1929, Lake Placid was awarded the 3rd Olympic Winter Games.

Although Lake Placid had excellent facilities for skiing and skating, it had no bobsled run, and in 1929, had only a small 25-meter ski jump hill. But Dewey had gained the support of New York Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt, who signed a bill authorizing the state to build a bobsled run on private lands if Lake Placid were awarded the Winter Olympics. Roosevelt’s commitment, along with Dewey’s detailed plans for a 60-meter ski jump, helped sway the IOC members.

The worldwide depression hindered plans for the Lake Placid Winter Olympics, and also decreased attendance. But Dewey was persistent and with Roosevelt’s assistance, most of the funding came from the New York State Legislature. Roosevelt, later a four-term United States President, established a temporary state commission, and pushed funding through the New York legislature to help the small village. The legislature approved funding of $125,000 to allow Lake Placid to build the first bobsled run in North America. The Games eventually cost $1.05 million, much of which went to building the bobsled run and the Olympic Stadium. Eventually Lake Placid built the first bob run in the United States, the 60-meter ski jump, and added an indoor skating arena, a Winter Olympic first.

Prior to the Games, the biggest problem facing the organizing committee was the world-wide economic depression. Several nations withdrew and many others sent very small teams, because of the cost of travel to the United States at a time when the money was not available. Sweden even led a European proposal asking that the Games be postponed until better economic conditions were available.

Shortly before the Olympics, the news was the weather, as it often seems to be prior to the Winter Olympics. Lake Placid had almost no snowfall for the two months prior to the Games, and an unusual heat wave hit the area, with temperatures in January even rising above 50° F. (10° C.). Fortunately two winter storms just before the Olympics alleviated the problem.

The biggest news of these Games was the controversy over the manner in which the speed skating events were contested. For the first time in Olympic history, the European method of skating time trials in pairs was not used. (As an indoor event, it became a separate facet of the sport again in 1992 at Albertville.) Instead the American method of pack racing was used to determine the Olympic champions. The Europeans, unaccustomed to the style, fared baldy, and the great Clas Thunberg, still a viable competitor at age 39, refused to compete in protest of the change. Norway’s Ivar Ballangrud did compete, but managed only a silver medal in the unfamiliar style.

The pack style did make heroes of two U.S. skaters. Hometown boy Jack Shea came home from Dartmouth and won the 500 and 1,500 metre races. He also delivered the oath of the athlete’s and in 1980 would be a member of the organizing committee when the Winter Olympics returned to Lake Placid. Irving Jaffee won the other two events, the 5,000 and 10,000 metres. A few years later, during the depths of the depression, he pawned the gold medals and never saw them again.

In figure skating, Gillis Grafström competed again but was finally defeated as Austrian Karl Schäfer won the title with Grafström second. Sonja Henie repeated in the women’s competition. In bobsledding, the U.S. sledders of Billy Fiske and Cliff Gray repeated as gold medalists from 1928. Although small in nature, and hindered by the depression and early threats of war in Europe and Asia, the 1932 Winter Olympics were successful in establishing Lake Placid as one of the world’s leading centers for winter sports and furthered its reputation as a winter resort.

Bid process

As organizer of the 1932 Summer Olympics, the United States were allowed to host the Winter Olympics as well. Six US cities, and one Canadian city made an application: Bear Mountain, New York, Denver, Colorado, Duluth, Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Yosemite Valley, California (two separate applications) and Montréal, Québec (Canada). Lake Placid was selected by acclamation at the 28th IOC Session in Lausanne on 10 April 1929.


Officially opened by Franklin D. Roosevelt (Governor)
Taker of the Athlete's Oath Jack Shea
Flagbearers Full list

Medal Disciplines

Bobsleigh Ice Hockey Speed Skating
Cross Country Skiing Nordic Combined
Figure Skating Ski Jumping

Other Disciplines

Curling Ice Hockey
Dogsled Racing Speed Skating

Medal table

NOC Gold Silver Bronze Total
United States USA 6 4 2 12
Norway NOR 3 4 3 10
Sweden SWE 1 2 0 3
Canada CAN 1 1 5 7
Finland FIN 1 1 1 3
Austria AUT 1 1 0 2
France FRA 1 0 0 1
Switzerland SUI 0 1 0 1
Germany GER 0 0 2 2
Hungary HUN 0 0 1 1

Most successful competitors

Athlete Nat Gold Silver Bronze Total
Irving Jaffee USA 2 0 0 2
Jack Shea USA 2 0 0 2
Veli Saarinen FIN 1 0 1 2
Eddie Eagan USA 1 0 0 1
Sonja Henie NOR 1 0 0 1
Andrée Brunet-Joly FRA 1 0 0 1
Pierre Brunet FRA 1 0 0 1
Bill Cockburn CAN 1 0 0 1
Cliff Crowley CAN 1 0 0 1
Bert Duncanson CAN 1 0 0 1
Billy Fiske USA 1 0 0 1
George Garbutt CAN 1 0 0 1
Cliff Gray USA 1 0 0 1
Johan Grøttumsbraaten NOR 1 0 0 1
Roy Henkel CAN 1 0 0 1
Vic Lindquist CAN 1 0 0 1
Norm Malloy CAN 1 0 0 1
Wally Monson CAN 1 0 0 1
Ken Moore CAN 1 0 0 1
J. J. O'Brien USA 1 0 0 1
Romeo Rivers CAN 1 0 0 1
Birger Ruud NOR 1 0 0 1
Karl Schäfer AUT 1 0 0 1
Hack Simpson CAN 1 0 0 1
Curtis Stevens USA 1 0 0 1
Hubert Stevens USA 1 0 0 1
Hugh Sutherland CAN 1 0 0 1
Sven Utterström SWE 1 0 0 1
Stan Wagner CAN 1 0 0 1
Alston Wise CAN 1 0 0 1

All medalists at these Games