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50 Years to an Olympic Medal

Wed, Nov  4, 2009 - By Tom Kelly

It was 1974, a full 50 years after the first Olympic Winter Games. Lake Tahoe resident Anders Haugen was 85, with a lifetime of memories. The Norwegian immigrant loved to tell of his fourth place finish in first Olympic Winter Games in 1924. Little did he know what the 50th anniversary of those historic Games had in store for him.

The modern day Olympic Games started in 1896, patterned after the ancient Grecian contests. But it wasn't until 1924 that the Olympic site of Paris chose to do a winter exposition – an event which later became the first Olympic Winter Games in Chamonix. Ski jumping was the marquee competition.

Haugen was the American favorite and team captain, a Norwegian native who emigrated to Colorado in 1908. The holder of two world jumping records, Haugen battled his native countrymen but missed the medals podium as Norway went gold-silver-bronze.

Or, at least it was that way until 1974.

A full 50 years after the competition, historian Jakob Vaage uncovered an error in the scoring calculations while preparing for a reunion of the Norwegian medalists. Indeed, the American Haugen should have been third.

In an unprecedented move, the bronze medal of Norwegian Thorleif Haug, then deceased, was presented to Haugen by Haug's daughter in a special ceremony in Oslo. It was a tearful moment for the 85-year-old Haugen who lived to experience his dream.

The historic first U.S. Winter Olympic medal is on display at the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame in Ishpeming, MI.