18 February 2006

World-Famous First Winter Olympic Gold Medal Winner

The winner of the first event of the 1924 Winter Olympics in Chamonix was Charles Jewtraw. A speed skater who took part in events across the U.S. and Europe in the early 1920s, Jewtraw won the 500 meter event at the first Winter Olympics. Born in Clinton County, NY in 1900, Charlie grew up near Lake Placid, the 4th son in a poor family. His parents separated when he was in his teens and he went to live with a businessman who financed Charlie's training.

You'd think the name of the winner of the first gold medal in Winter Olympic history would be world famous. Or, since he was an American, at least famous in the U.S. Although remembered in the speed-skating community, Charlie's name is not as recognizable to the rest of us as, say, fellow speed-skater Eric Heiden or another 1924 Winter Olympian, Sonja Henie, who as an 11-year-old figure skater, finished last.

After the Olympics, Jewtraw attended Harvard for a while and took part in a few more skating meets and exhibitions following the Olympics. He became a spokesperson for Spalding and married a woman named Natalie. He died in 1996 in Palm Beach, Florida.

In case you are wondering, the Jewtraws came to New York from Canada, though I don't know the actual origin of the name. To bolster my theory that census takers never ever asked how to spell a name, between 1840 and 1880, the name is recorded as Jewstraw, Dutrow, Jutraw, Dutrand, Jertraw, and Dutraw.

Here is Jewtraw in 1900, just a month old. By 1910 the family was living near Lake Placid. In 1920, Charlie was living with his sponsor, James Mabbett.

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