How Long Has Hockey Been An Olympic Sport? [Answered!]

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Has hockey ever been an Olympic sport? If so, when was it first played at the Olympic Games? You may be surprised to learn that hockey – with its quirky nicknames, its frequent line changes, and its ever-evolving rules – has been around for less than a century. In fact, the first modern Olympic ice hockey games were only held in 1908.

Hockey Has Long History

Hockey is one of Canada’s favorite games, attracting fans from across the country – especially in the winter months. With its distinctive crunching sound and the speed at which the puck travels, it’s probably not a surprise that hockey – which is an Anglicization of the French word “hockey” – has been around for so long. The first written record of the game dates back to 1874, when the Montreal Gazette published a series of articles naming the “King of Hockey” for a competition between Montreal and Toronto clubs.

It wasn’t until 1896 that the first hockey game was actually played at the Olympics. The Summer Olympics were then held in Paris, and a team composed of Canadians and Americans travelled there to play exhibition games. Although hockey was officially “in” at the Olympic Games, the sport itself was relatively unknown in Europe at this point. It wasn’t until 1899 that an Olympic gold medal was won for hockey for the first time. The first American to win an Olympic gold medal in hockey was Frank E. Billings.

Early Games

The first officially-recognized ice hockey championships weren’t held until years later, in the early 1900s. Between 1904 and 1912, the National Hockey League (NHL) was established, holding its first three games – which were also its first regular season games – between October 10 and 12, 1904. However, not all early games were played on ice. Some of the first hockey games were actually played in England, where the game is known as “field hockey” because the sport was often played on open fields. Later, in 1906, a Swedish national team toured Canada and played exhibition matches against some of the best amateur hockey players of the day. The exhibition matches, which were played on an outdoor rink in Edmonton, Alberta, are considered to be among the first international series.

Development Of Hockey

Hockey developed rapidly in the early twentieth century. By the time the 1908 Summer Olympics were held in London, the game had become quite popular. There were actually two separate international hockey tournaments held that year, with one being held in Stockholm, Sweden, and the other one in Helsinki, Finland. Although hockey was officially an “amateur” sport in England, Sweden, and Finland, the professional era had already begun. The first fully professional hockey league was the Canadian Professionals, which was established in 1911 and began playing that year.

In 1907, the NHA (National Hockey Association) was founded in Canada, paving the way for the development of a truly national league, which would eventually become the NHL. In 1914, the NHA and the NHL merged to form the first truly national hockey league, the Canadian Hockey Association (CHA). It wasn’t until the 1920s that wooden hockey sticks were finally replaced by their modern counterparts, which are now made of bamboo or fiberglass and are much lighter.

The Golden Age

The Golden Age of hockey was from the 1950s to the 1980s. During this time, the game became truly international, attracting players and fans from all over the world. In 1965, an amateur international championship – the first of its kind – was held in Prague, Czechoslovakia, and was won by the Soviet Union, which dethroned Canada – the pre-eminent power in the game at the time – as the world champion. In the following year, the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) was established, unifying all the different national hockey federations around the world under its umbrella.

The two major events that defined this period were the 1972 Summit Series and the 1978 World Hockey Championships. The former was a series of four games, with each game being played between Canada and the USSR (with the series being won by Canada). This is widely considered to be one of the greatest series in hockey history, with each game being won by Canada – the final score being 7-3 in favor of the home team. The latter event saw the Soviet Union and Sweden battle for the world title, with the final game ending in a 7-7 draw.

Although the 1980s were a time of decline for hockey, thanks in part to the rise of soccer in the 1980s, the game still managed to pull in some impressive international crowds. In 1989, a fully professional league, the Soviet Professional Hockey League, was established in the Soviet Union, making the game even more popular there. That same year, the IIHF expanded its membership to include Africa and North America.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union in the late 1990s, all the different national hockey leagues shut down, and the sport seemed to decline in popularity. The NHL was actually founded in 1991 and began play that year, but it wasn’t until 2005 that the first NHL game was played in Prague since the fall of the Soviet Union. However, thanks in part to the new millennium and the rising popularity of hockey in China, the sport has seen a resurgence, and there are now plans to hold an NHL game in Beijing as early as next year.

Hockey Today

Although hockey has been around for less than a century, it still manages to draw in fans from all over the world. In 2012, there were more than 16 million viewers on a single platform – YouTube – as China’s popular ‘Let’s Play’ series featured an entertaining compilation of gameplay between a mouse and keyboard.

Some people credit the rise in popularity of hockey to the emergence of social media and the rise of content creators like Jimmy Wang and Ryan Higa, famous for their ‘Hola, Cupcakes!’ and ‘#winning’ videos, respectively.

Thanks to these content creators, many people now know what hockey is and appreciate its unique culture and history. With the rise of eSports as a mainstream activity, we might even see more people flocking to watch hockey matches played online.

Olympic Hockey Dates

Now, let’s return to our original question: has hockey ever been an Olympic sport? The short answer is yes, but it wasn’t until the summer Olympics that the sport was officially introduced as an Olympic sport. The first Winter Olympic games were held in Chamonix, France, in 1924. Since then, the Winter Olympic hockey tournament has been held every four years, with the last one being held in 2014 in São Paulo.

The only summer Olympic games not to feature hockey were the ones that were held in Paris in 1908 (soccer) and 1920 (baseball). So, the next time you’re in Paris, you’ll have to make sure you follow the hockey – not the baseball – tournament.

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