When Did Hockey Start In The Olympics? [Updated!]

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In the winter of 2018, the Olympic host city of PyeongChang, South Korea, was eagerly awaiting the arrival of the South Korean national hockey team and their supporters. The country was in the middle of the winter months, and most of the locals were happy to stay indoors.

Hockey had been a popular winter sport in South Korea for decades, and the nation’s national hockey team had won several international competitions. The 2018 Winter Olympics were going to be the culmination of years of preparation, and the entire nation was looking forward to the opportunity to showcase their talent on the world stage.

While the majority of the country was eagerly anticipating the start of the hockey season, others were less certain about the exact day the sport had debuted in the Olympics. Was it before or after the first ice hockey tournament in 1920? Was it even during the period of the Olympics?

According to the records available, hockey had been played in the Olympics since the inaugural tournament in 1920. And, as it turns out, South Korea was not the first country to participate in the winter Olympics. In fact, the first winter Olympic tournament was far from being an unequivocal success; it was the culmination of four years of preparation, but the actual games were postponed twice due to the global pandemic.

One Of The First Countries To Include Hockey In The Olympics

The first Winter Olympic Games were held in Finland in the winter of 1920. During that time, Finland was not yet a part of the Soviet Union, and the nation had just become industrialized. The Finns were keen to host the inaugural tournament, and the country’s governor-general at the time, Otto Wilmann, was appointed the Honorary President of the 1920 Winter Olympics. The national hockey team – the Falstaffs – had just finished the 1920–21 season with a 17–2 record, and were considered one of the favorites to win the gold medal.

Four years later, the Winter Olympics were held in Brünn, Switzerland. Again, Finland was under the auspices of the IOC, and the 1928 Winter Olympics were also going to be the culmination of a four-year preparation period. The host nation was considered one of the best in ice hockey, and a gold medal was not out of the question.

The United States Also Entered Early In The History Of Hockey

Another country that had been preparing for the winter Olympics for some time was the United States. After the initial excitement of the 1920 Olympics faded, a second wave of enthusiasm for hockey set in, and many universities began organizing hockey teams. Several colleges even had women’s teams!

One of the first intercollegiate tournaments, the 1928 ECAC Hockey Tournament, was won by the Dartmouth Big Green, who defeated Princeton in the championship game. The ECAC Hockey Tournament was one of the premier tournaments of the era, and was considered a predictor of future success for the burgeoning sport.

Hockey was not universally popular in the United States at the time, however. The sport had yet to take off, and some athletes even considered it to be a “nondiscriminatory” sport, playing field, and many universities banned the sport, fearing it would take up too much time.

Finland’s Quest For Glory

The most storied story relating to the Winter Olympics has to do with Finland and their quest for glory. A great power in the interwar years, Finland had qualified for the Winter Olympics after a 29-year absence. The nation’s governor-general, Otto Wilmann, was appointed the Honorary President of the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, and he was determined to see his home country win the gold.

Finland entered the first Winter Olympics in 1920 with a roster of talented players that had just finished a 19-game win streak. One of the great hockey rivalry games took place that year, as Finland faced off against Sweden in one of the early Olympics. Although the Swedes were the reigning Olympic champions, the Finns were not to be denied their one big chance at redemption. And it was not in vain, as they went on to win the gold medal, defeating the Swedes in the final.

Finland’s Olympic gold was the nation’s greatest sports moment of the 20th century. The next day, the streets of Helsinki were teeming with people, and there was a feeling of deja vu in the air. The same streets that had been silent six years earlier during the First World War were now the stage for wild celebrations.

After winning the gold medal, Otto Wilmann, the Governor-General of Finland, declared: “Hockey is now part of the Olympic movement. The Finns will keep playing hockey as long as there are Olympic Games.”

Indeed, the Finns kept playing hockey, and they went on to become great Olympic medalists. Lotte Schulze of the Daily Mail noted that following the gold-medal victory, “hockey became an integral part of the Finnish identity. It was not only a sport but a way of life.”

The Finns also dominated the inaugural World Ice Hockey Championships in 1929, winning all but one of the tournament’s games. For decades, Finland would be the country that everyone wanted to emulate. And no wonder, as the nation became a pioneer in the development of ice hockey as a winter sport.

Ice Hockey Took Off In The 1930s

The Great Depression had hit Europe and North America hard, and the effects were still being felt during the early 1930s. In 1932, the Winter Olympics were postponed due to financial reasons. The next year, the Winter Olympics were again postponed, this time due to international tensions. Finally, in 1934, the Winter Olympics returned, and this time the host nation was determined to have ice hockey as part of the program again. The nation’s capital, Helsinki, was also the host city of the cultural summer Olympics, known as the Parallel Games – a competition that was similar to the Winter Olympics but did not include a winter sports element.

It was during these years that a new wave of hockey fans emerged, as the sport became more widespread and played outside of the traditional winter months. In the 1930s, people began to see the value of ice hockey as a winter sport, and many arenas were built, featuring a roller hockey rink. This added to the allure of the game, which was considered a good workout for those looking for a change of pace during the colder winter months.

Another historical oddity concerned the rules of the game during the first few decades of the century. The International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) had been founded in 1886, and their first-ever World Ice Hockey Championships took place in Stockholm in 1930. It was not until 1934 that the IIHF standardized some of the rules of hockey, and it was not until 1972 that the rulebook was updated, bringing it in line with hockey today. The International Ice Hockey Federation had yet to embrace technology, as they still relied on a fax machine to send scores and results!

Hockey Enters The Summer Olympics

During the second half of the 20th century, ice hockey continued to grow in popularity around the world. In 1932, the Summer Olympics were held in Beijing, China, but unlike the Winter Games, which were confined to a handful of sports, the Summer Olympics included a wide array of track and field sports.

The competition began on August 10, and Canada – arguably the greatest hockey nation of all time – entered the tournament as the defending Olympic champions. The goal for Canada was simple: keep their winning streak alive.

The tournament was scheduled to end on August 22, but on August 21, the Japanese team attacked and sank the Battleship Musashi, killing hundreds and wounding over a thousand. The next day, August 22, was declared a day of mourning, and the games were postponed.

The aftermath of the attack on Pearl Harbour was felt not only in the Pacific but all across the world. The games were postponed for the second time, and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) decided that hockey could not be included in the summer games due to its connection with war. (There was some tension between the two sports, as the officials of the Cup of China – the predecessor to the Asian Games – felt that hockey had taken the limelight in the buildup to the Olympics, and wanted to give the Asian nations a better chance at winning a gold medal.)

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