This week’s tragic earthquake in Haiti appears to have prompted a tweet from London 2012 linking to a web page that reminds us that the 1908 Games came to London at short notice after Italy withdrew Rome as host city following the eruption of Mount Vesuvius.
Missing from LOCOG’s list of innovations that first appeared at London 1908 was the fact that these Games heralded the Olympic Winter Games by including ice skating for the first time.
According to the organisers’ official report (pp 328-341),
Through the goodwill and assistance of the Duchess of Bedford the rink at Prince’s Skating Club was specially opened on October 9 for the practice of competitors. This rink, at which the competitions were held, measures 200 feet by 52 feet (62 x 16m.). A substantial period for practice was thus assured.
Located on the western side of Cadogan Square in Belgravia, the rink was made available to competitors for training for ten hours a day but, unlike modern Olympic venues, remained open to members at other times.
Competition opened on Wednesday October 28 with Compulsory Figures – the Ladies in the morning and Gentlemen in the afternoon. A Special Figure Competition was held on the morning of Thursday October 29 with Ladies and Gentlemen’s Free Skating and Pairs competitions in the afternoon.
Pre-dating the first Olympic Winter Games in Chamonix by 16 years, London 1908 presented Sweden’s Ulrich Salchow (1877-1949) with his only opportunity to skate for an Olympic medal. Salchow dominated figure skating in the first decade of the 20th Century winning ten world championships (1901-5, 1907-11 ) and nine European titles. He was successful in adding the London Olympic Gold to his trophy cabinet. Today, Salchow is one of the most frequently used words amongst ice skating commentators. The jump he invented involves taking off while going backwards from the back inside edge of one blade and landing on the back outside edge of the other blade. It also comes in double and triple versions depending on the number of full rotations completed in the air.
In winning the Special Figure Competition, N. Panin, also known as Nikolai Alexandrovich Kolomenkin, (1871-1956) became Russia’s first ever Olympic Gold medalist.
The Prince’s Skating Club opened as an exclusive private members club on 7 November 1896 and became home of the Prince’s Ice Hockey Club by the end of the year. The rink hosted the first Oxford vs Cambridge Varsity Ice Hockey match in 1900.
In 1902, the London Canadians became the second ice hockey club to be based at Prince’s. Over the winter of 1903-4, both clubs participated with four others in Europe’s first ice hockey league. The Canadians ended the season as champions with Prince’s runners-up.
A Prince’s vs Paris match at the rink in 1908 was the first in Britain held under the rules of the recently formed International Ice Hockey Federation. The first England v Scotland match was hosted in 1910. The British Ice Hockey Association was established at a meeting at the club in 1914. The BIHA remained the governing body for British ice hockey until 1999 when Ice Hockey UK took over the role.
Prince’s closed in the summer of 1917 and the building was later demolished.