Lightning struck Charlie Jewtraw on the morning of Jan. 27, 1924 in the mountain village of Chamonix, France. Jewtraw's bolt from the blue came on the first day of competition—in fact, it came in the first event of the first Winter Olympic Games ever held. Against all odds, Jewtraw won the gold medal (shown above) in the 500-meter speed skating race. He was 23 years old.
Now he's 83. Sitting in his modest apartment in Palm Beach, Fla., Jewtraw recalls the rapturous occasion: "It was like a fairy tale. I was a poor boy from Lake Placid. I'd been national champion, but I'd retired from skating. I wanted to move on. I was being tutored for Bowdoin College—I'd never finished high school, but I wanted my education. Then I got a telegram saying we would send an Olympic team to France. I hadn't trained at all. I didn't want to go. My tutor convinced me I should. I was so sick crossing the ocean that I kept praying the ship would sink. I wasn't even nervous the day of the race. Why would I be? I knew I couldn't win."
Jewtraw had never skated a 500-meter race, because the comparable sprint distance in the U.S. was only 440 yards. And he'd also never skated against the clock before, or skated in a one-on-one heat or been in a race in which the skaters changed lanes at the midway point. This was because all speed skating races in the U.S. then were run in five-or six-man heats. Jewtraw also had never been through a flag-drop start—pistols were used in the U.S. And, as he says, "I had never skated against such skaters as the Scandinavians who were there. They were the best in the world. I had everything against me."
Skating in the 13th heat at Chamonix against Charles Gorman, a Canadian he knew well, Jewtraw bowed his head before the start and said to himself, "For my country and my God, I'll do my best." He recalls the race: "I was always great on starts, but Gorman got the jump on me. He was going like a cyclone. I was in the outside lane, and I knew we had to change lanes somewhere down the line. I hadn't watched any heats before ours, so I couldn't figure out how it would happen. But somehow it did, and after we changed I was ahead. I have no idea how it happened. We were screaming along, and then I got a second wind. I didn't dare look behind to see where Gorman was. I beat him by a second and a half. He told me he was completely exhausted. I had emptied him out."
December 26, 1983
Jewtraw's time was 44 seconds flat—one-fifth of a second faster than that of any other skater in the field. Then came the postrace ceremony: "I stood in the middle of the rink, and they played The Star-Spangled Banner," he says. "The whole American team rushed out on the ice. They hugged me like I was a beautiful girl. Oh my God...." Tears fill Jewtraw's eyes as he remembers these things. "My teammates threw me in the air. The loudspeakers were booming out in French, 'Charlie Jewtraw of the U.S. of A. wins the first race in the first Winter Games!' Oh my God...." Jewtraw is weeping openly now. His voice is becoming thin and shaky. "I ask you, how many people have a moment like that? I did. I did.... Oh God, oh God...." Jewtraw covers his eyes with one hand, overcome again with the splendor of that morning when he was the first.
The first is now almost the last. We are within a few weeks of the 60th anniversary of those Games in Chamonix—the 14th Winter Olympics will begin in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia on Feb. 8—and the survivors of the 1924 Games are few and far-flung. Besides Jewtraw, only one winner of an individual gold medal is alive.
She's a sweet-faced, dainty Austrian woman of 82 years. Her name is Herma Szabo, though she was known during her skating days by her married name, Szabo-Plank. She lives alone in a gabled mountain house in the 1,000-year-old village of Admont, about 100 miles southwest of Vienna. She has been a widow for 15 years. She's lonely much of the time. She must use two canes to get about. Ah, but Szabo-Plank was once the most celebrated of figure skaters. She was repeatedly world champion during the 1920s. She was a member of a skating dynasty that included uncles, cousins and her beautiful mother, Christine, who once dazzled Czar Nicholas II with her balletic skating on the royal rink in St. Petersburg. At Chamonix, Szabo-Plank won her gold medal with an overwhelmingly superior performance against a strong field of competitors, one of whom was a dimpled sylph from Norway named Sonja Henie, then 11 years and nine months old, the youngest Olympic participant that year—or ever.
In all, 34 gold medals were awarded in 1924 to various individuals, pairs and teams. Besides Jewtraw and Szabo-Plank, two other winners survive, but they won their golds in concert with others. One, Szabo-Plank's cousin, Helene Engelmann, got her medal in pairs figure skating. She is 83, feeble and senile. The other, a Scotsman named Lawrence Jackson, was one of four men on Great Britain's curling team, which earned the gold with a 46-4 drubbing of France and a 38-7 victory over Sweden, the only other countries to enter the event. Jackson, who's in his 80s, is frail, shy and reclusive.
The rest of the Chamonix gold medalists are dead. The deceased include all nine members of the Canadian hockey team, which simply annihilated its opposition, winning all five of its games by the incredible combined margin of 110 goals to 3; the extraordinary Norwegian skier, Thorleif Haug who, as a brawny forerunner of triple-gold medalists Toni Sailer and Jean-Claude Killy, won three events; Clas Thunberg, the stormy Finnish superstar who was almost the Eric Heiden of his day, winning three golds, a silver and a bronze in speed skating; and all four members of the Swiss bobsled team who, oddly enough, lived to enter their 80s and then, beginning in late 1982, died within 11 months of each other.
The opening day parade on Jan. 25 was a happy straggle of folks making their way through the narrow streets of Chamonix. There were 294 athletes from 18 countries. One team member carried his nation's flag; the others carried the tools of their sports—skates, skis, hockey sticks, curling stones, even bobsleds. Intermingled with the Olympians were local mountain guides, players from local soccer, hockey and curling teams and fire fighters from the Chamonix volunteer brigade. The village council and the mayor marched, too, and there was bitter muttering among some in the crowd when Mayor Jean Lavaivre strutted by. Many Chamoniards had been irked when the mayor's son, Charles, a notoriously inferior athlete, had been made a member of the French Olympic hockey team. That was the kind of political cause cél√®bre that enlivened these Olympics.
The parade meandered onto the rink that was to be the central ceremonial spot in town. Mont Blanc loomed five miles to the south like an alabaster version of Olympus itself. The crowd of 2,089, which only half filled the grandstand at the rink, gave one of its greatest ovations to Henie, who, in pleated skirt and a club blazer too large for her, skipped alongside the blond giant carrying the Norwegian flag.
Chamonix, which had a population of 5,000, was picked for the Games primarily because the International Olympic Committee then believed that it was preferable to hold the Winter Games in the same country as the Summer Games. Since the Summer Olympics of 1924 would be in Paris, a locale in France was sought to host the winter events. A wealthy crowd from England and France had been dabbling in wintertime recreation at Chamonix since before World War I. Accordingly, in '24 it was one of the few villages in the French Alps that was served by the railroad, and it also had plenty of hotels, restaurants and even a few casinos. The village was still remote, but the idea of the common man attending spectator sports in winter was even more so. As Roger Frison-Roche of Chamonix, now 78, an author of novels about nature and mountaineering and a member of the local organizing committee in 1924, recalls, "Only the rich could afford to come. Workers didn't have vacations. These Olympics attracted a client√®le de luxe."
A cumulative total of 32,863 people were present at the 11 sessions, but that included athletes, coaches, the press, trainers, officials, etc. Only 10,044 tickets were sold during the Olympic period from Jan. 25 to Feb. 5—an average of 913 a day. Elis Sandin, now 82, was a member of the Swedish ski team and he recalls: "Tourists in Chamonix seemed more interested in the social whirl than in the Olympic sporting life."
Among those who attended the Games was Baron Pierre de Coubertin, then 61, the French aristocrat who had been the driving force behind the creation of the modern Olympics in 1896. Arguments in favor of holding a Winter Games had arisen in the IOC as early as 1911, and, oddly enough, there had been a figure skating competition in the 1908 Olympics in London, and in the Antwerp Games in 1920 figure skating and hockey were included. The baron, however, opposed the idea of a separate Winter Games because he felt that the Games would cause disunity in the Olympic movement because warm-weather countries would feel left out. Moreover, the Scandinavian countries were opposed to Winter Games for fear that the Olympics would relegate their own quadrennial spectacular, the Nordic Games, to second-class status, which, of course, is just what happened. Nevertheless, in 1921 a well-organized pro-Winter Olympics faction in the IOC voted to allow a winter sports program to be held each Olympic year under the "patronage" of the IOC. De Coubertin surrendered unconditionally in a speech at the closing ceremonies in Chamonix. He praised winter sports for their "purity" and he declared that they would hold a "definitive place" in all "Olympic manifestations" from that day forward.
The real Olympic manifestations in Chamonix began two days after the parade. In the morning, there was Jewtraw's fairy tale. Then in the afternoon, Thunberg, a 30-year-old construction worker from Helsinki, began to put his mark on Olympic history. That first morning he'd tied for a bronze in the 500-meter speed skating race, and in the afternoon he won the gold medal in the 5,000; in the next two days Thunberg won a gold in the 1,500, another gold for combined results and a silver in the 10,000-meter race. He would win two more gold medals in the 1928 Olympics.
Thunberg was a strange and moody bird, the edges of whose personality were as sharp as those on his skates. Before the 1924 Olympics, the Finnish skaters trained briefly in Switzerland. Thunberg, who hated the Swiss food, particularly the sausages, confronted the team leader and snapped, "This eating of boiled snakes has got to stop!" Thunberg was mollified only after the Finnish ski team agreed to share the precious cache of black bread, butter and pork that it had brought all the way from Helsinki. In Chamonix, Thunberg provoked such a fierce quarrel with the skaters' trainer that the man refused to call Thunberg's lap times during his races.
After Chamonix, Thunberg returned home to brass bands and adoring crowds. The 1924 world speed skating championships were to be held in Helsinki within the month. It seemed a time tailor-made for Thunberg to cut a place for himself forever among the Finnish gods of sport. But with characteristic obtuseness, he skated in one race, then pleaded fatigue and refused to compete anymore. Unfortunately, the same night he dropped out he was seen in a restaurant with his wife. The Finnish press ripped him to ribbons.
In 1925 the American promoter Tex Rickard brought Thunberg to the U.S. for a tour during which he amazed large crowds by shattering five world records. A worshipful press dubbed him The Nurmi of the Ice Rink. This accolade infuriated the thin-skinned Thunberg, who believed that Paavo Nurmi should have been called The Thunberg of the Running Track.
Thunberg retired from skating in 1935 and made a comfortable living for the rest of his life from a building-cleaning firm he founded in Helsinki. He died at 80 in 1974. His last years weren't without honor. In 1967 he was given the gold cross of the Award of Merit of Finnish Sport. It is an order open to only 12 living Finns at a time. Of course, Nurmi had been a member since 1947.
The Finnish speed skaters dominated their sport in the 1924 Games, winning four gold medals, two silvers and two bronzes. By contrast, Finland's crosscountry skiers, who had long assumed themselves to be the cr√®me de la cr√®me of their sport, produced only a single individual medal—a bronze. It was won by one Tapani Niku, now a thin little man of 88 who's still fit and bright. The story behind his lowly bronze medal maybe more heroic—more morally heroic, if you will—than any tale of how Niku came by the multitude of other trophies he has won in his long life.
Here's how it happened. Cocky as they were about their superiority as skiers, the Finns had never competed outside Scandinavia before. They got an inkling of the trouble that lay ahead the first day they trained on the Olympic 50-km course. "We found the uphill runs no problem," recalls Niku, "but there was a 700-meter downhill so steep and so icy that it was impossible to negotiate it on our birchwood skis. The gorges in the Alps were like nothing we had seen. The Norwegians had hickory skis with sharper cutting edges. This had always been true, but it had never mattered before."
The Finns complained to the organizers that the downhills were too dangerous. The Norwegians complained that they were too tame. The French agreed to change the course—by adding yet another "gigantic, steep ice slope," according to Niku. Only one of four Finns who entered even finished the 50-km race. He was seventh. The others, including Niku, fell on the fierce downhills. All three nonfinishers were hurt, two severely—one had a broken leg and Niku had two fractured ribs. The following day would be the 18 km, and the French promised they'd lay out an easier course. "They didn't keep that promise," says Niku. "Four of us started and two fell. I came in third, behind two Norwegians. My ribs felt as though there was a puukko [sheath knife] stuck between them."
As it turned out, Niku had a chance to turn his bronze to gold. The rules governing the 18 km had been vague. Inexplicably, that race also was being used as the cross-country skiing half of the Nordic combined event, which includes a ski jumping phase as well.
The two Norwegians who finished in front of Niku were entered as combined-event racers and not as competitors in the 18 km. The Finnish team captain told Niku the night after the race that if he appealed, he would almost certainly be upheld and awarded the gold medal. Niku calmly recalls his reply: "I said no. I thought it would be unsporting to appeal. I said that the Norwegians were clearly better on those tracks, and they definitely deserved the victory."
The Norwegian juggernaut, which won 11 of a possible 12 medals in Nordic skiing, was powered in large part by Haug, 29, a tough, stocky plumber from the town of Drammen. Not only did Haug win the gold medal in the oddly constituted 18-km race, but he got another gold in the combined and a third in the 50 km. He had a bronze medal in the ski jump, to boot. After his feats of '24 Haug's countrymen called him Skikongen—Ski King. He dabbled in designing ski bindings for a time, but mainly he remained a plumber until his death in 1934 of pneumonia at the age of 40. Today there's a statue of Haug in Drammen.
In a strange turn of fortune, one of Haug's 1924 medals was taken away from him 50 years after his death and given to an American bricklayer named Anders Haugen, who at 95 is almost certainly the oldest living athlete from the Chamonix Olympics. He lives in Yucaipa, Calif., near Palm Springs, and still walks a mile every day. Haugen attributes his long life to his athletic fitness—he was performing as a professional stunt ski jumper, leaping over cars and the like, at 63!—and to vegetarianism.
Haugen, who was born in Norway, came to America in 1908 when he was 20. He and his older brother, Lars, won 11 U.S. ski jumping championships between them, and Anders set three world records. When the American Olympic ski team was organized in 1924, Anders was 36 years old, and he was made captain. Lars warned him, "You may out-jump all of them, but you won't win. The judges won't let you." Today Anders looks back over six decades and says with a sigh, "Lars's words came true. I'm only glad I was prepared for what happened."
When Haugen jumped, he leaned radically forward over the tips of his skis. He was well ahead of his time—other jumpers of his era stood nearly upright as they flew through the air. As Haugen says, "I showed the way for modern jumpers to get low under the wind."
Haugen was tremendous at Chamonix, making the longest jump of the competition, 50 meters. The crowd shouted and whistled with admiration at his feat. The U.S. coach hugged Haugen and shouted in his ear, "You've got them all beat, Anders!" But Haugen knew better. As he explains it: "I was a Norwegian runaway to America and that was bad business. The judges were all European, and they resented me. The other jumpers were not gentlemen to me either. Only Haug was different. Yes, he took the bronze medal that was rightfully mine. But he had good manners, and he talked to me about the United States and other things. But my brother had been right. The judges would never let me win." Haugen was placed fourth even with the length of his jump because his form was ruled to be all wrong.
Despite the judges' machinations, Haugen had actually accumulated enough points for the bronze; a mathematical error cost him the medal. Following a long campaign by the Norwegian ski historian Jakob Vaage, justice was served in 1974. In a ceremony in Oslo, Haug's daughter, Anne Marie, presented Haugen, then 86, with the bronze medal he'd earned a half century before. A Norwegian newspaper headline read: LATE BUT GOOD.
Besides thrilling to Thunberg's thunder and jumping to Jewtraw's joy, spectators at the skating rink saw curling, hockey and figure skating. They also witnessed some personal dramas that they couldn't know about.
Szabo-Plank remembers, for example, that there was great anxiety among the four competitors who made up the Austrian Olympic figure skating team. "We were so worried, so nervous," she says. "Germany hadn't been invited to the Olympics because of their part in the Great War. And we were very afraid of what our reception might be. We four had worked as hard as we ever could in preparing for these competitions. We were determined to show the world that our tiny, shrunken, postwar Austria was still very much alive." To their great relief, the Austrians were received with warmth during the parade—"People threw their caps in the air," Szabo-Plank recalls—and they proceeded to deliver a medal-per-capita performance that no other team in Chamonix could match. Engelmann and Alfred Berger won gold in the pairs, and Willi B√∂ckl was the silver medalist in men's figure skating behind the elegant Swede, Gillis Grafstr√∂m. And, of course, Szabo-Plank, then 22 and already twice a world champion, got her gold.
She remembers her triumph well: "I always had a new dress for major competitions, and I wore a terra-cotta—colored wool that day. The music was provided by six musicians, five strings and a piano. It was broadcast over 10 electric megaphones around the grandstand. On the day of the ladies' free skating competition, however, there was a strong wind blowing the music away from the rink. We managed all right."
But when Szabo-Plank finished her program, she wasn't at all sure that she had managed. Until Chamonix, she had never seen American or British women skaters perform, and they awed her. "They seemed so much prettier, and they skated so differently—so modern," she says. Upon leaving the ice, Szabo-Plank hurried back to her hotel room and undressed, convinced that she had lost.
Moments later, her father, Alexander von Szabo, a wealthy Viennese export-import merchant, pounded on her door: "Get dressed. You've won," he shouted. "They're already hoisting the Austrian flag." Szabo-Plank put on her skating costume, returned to the rink and learned that she had swept both compulsory and free skating competitions by such margins that the judges had awarded her the gold medal by a unanimous vote. Henie, the dimpled favorite of the crowd, came in eighth, but her promise was dazzling. Herr Szabo told a Viennese newspaper that little Sonja's free skating was "full of recurring elegant poses and difficult jumps," and "if she remains an amateur, she will be the future world champion."
He was right, but neither he nor his daughter liked it when his prediction came true. Szabo-Plank went on to win the singles world championship in 1924, '25 and '26 and, with a Viennese skater named Ludwig Wrede, the pairs title in '25 and '26. The '27 world competition was to be held in Henie's hometown of Oslo, however. Szabo-Plank today is as agitated about what happened there as she was at the time. "The end wasn't a pretty story," she says grimly. "It was a scandal. Henie was a very sweet little girl, but her father and her fans did not behave properly."
On the train to Oslo, an Austrian conductor told Szabo-Plank that the town was plastered with posters paid for by Henie's father that proclaimed a victory for his daughter in advance. He also said that fans were in an unruly mood. This proved to be correct. "At the hotel," recalls Szabo-Plank, "some Norwegians ruined my skating boots with a razor blade. I soon learned also that the figure skating jury was composed of one Austrian, one German and five Norwegians. I knew that no matter what I did I would be rated below Henie."
Henie was indeed crowned world champion that year. She also won Olympic gold medals in 1928, '32 and '36, and became a Hollywood star and then a businesswoman so shrewd that she is reputed to have made something like $500 million by the time she died of cancer in 1969 at the age of 57.
Szabo-Plank and her partner won the pairs at Oslo in 1927, but this didn't placate her. She quit skating. She took up skiing and was a member of the Austrian Alpine team for 10 years. She married four times, and her fourth husband, Hans Stark, the director of Austria's national forests, made her very happy until he died in 1968 after 20 years of marriage. "All that remains of my youth is the discipline of a sportswoman," she says. "Every day, rain or shine, I force myself to walk 10 rounds in the garden." She moves slowly there, poking her canes one after the other into the ground. Once in a while her blue eyes lift to gaze at the Alps before her. Her eyes are bright and lively—much like, one assumes, the eyes of the young woman who 60 years ago proudly watched the Austrian flag rise above the ice in the center of Chamonix.
By the time the closing competitive event began on the rink on Feb. 3, the ice had been consecrated with the sweat and tears of dozens of Olympians. The last event—the hockey finale between Canada and the U.S.—added a sprinkling of blood. The game was called by one journalist "the roughest hockey struggle ever played in Europe."
The two teams had both made mincemeat of their opposition. The Canadians had won three games in the preliminary round, over Czechoslovakia, Sweden and Switzerland, by an 85-0 margin and then had wiped out Great Britain in the semifinals 19-2. The U.S. had defeated Belgium, Great Britain and France by the cumulative score of 52-0 and then had beaten Sweden in the semis by 20-0. At one point in the British-American game, the hailstorm of U.S. goals was so demoralizing that the British coach lined up four men across the goal mouth to keep the puck from going in.
The U.S. team was very proud of its goalie, Alphonse (Frenchie) LaCroix, who was from the Boston area, as were most members of the team. His string of goose-egg games gave the Americans a sense of confidence that bordered on arrogance. At one point, a U.S. official quite seriously suggested to a Canadian counterpart that, because there might well be a scoreless tie in the final game, the American team would claim the gold because its average of goals scored to goals against was better than Canada's. The Canadians took this idea lightly at first, but then grew progressively angrier.
The hockey playing surface was 90' X 180', and it was laid out over whichever section of the rink had the most acceptable ice. There were no boards, and the boundaries were formed by tree trunks laid end-to-end. Nets were draped across the areas behind the goals so pucks wouldn't sail off toward the Alps. The sun was a critical factor in some games, because on a clear day it could blind a goalie facing into it. Thus, a team's pregame selection of which goal to defend could be very important. The U.S. and Canadian captains joined the referee at center ice expecting him to flip a coin to determine which team would get its pick. To their surprise, the official asked each man, "How old are you?" The Canadian said 21, the American said 28 and the referee said briskly, "Thank you, gentlemen. The older man will now make his choice of ends."
The game was a furious succession of mass rushes punctuated by heavy collisions. The Canadians scored first, breaking LaCroix' streak. Then they got another goal. Both scores were put in by Harry Watson, 25, a swift, rugged wing from Toronto. In Canada's first three games, Watson had accumulated a staggering 33 of his team's 85 goals. He was an obvious target for the U.S. players, and his nose was bloodied in the first moments of play. He gave as good as he got and served time in the penalty box. Despite the mayhem, Watson scored three goals and had an assist on a fourth. He was a superstar if ever there was one, but when he got home after the Games, he refused to turn pro. Instead he went into the insurance business, in which he prospered until he died in 1957.
Canada won the hockey championship 6-1. When the game was at last over, the teams embraced on the blood-spattered ice. That savage performance ended the Winter Olympics of 1924. On Feb. 5, medals were to be officially awarded at the closing ceremonies, but many winners had already departed. An Austrian skating judge brought Szabo-Plank's gold medal back to Vienna for her, and someone from the U.S. hockey team picked up Jewtraw's and gave it to him later in Boston.
Many of the absentee victors, along with other Olympians, headed for Paris in search of sweet respite. Some found it, some didn't. Thunberg had no money when he arrived and could only wait in anger until his young wife sent him his fare home. Niku tried to enjoy himself at the Moulin Rouge nightclub, but his broken ribs hurt badly when he laughed. The six-man American speed skating team, on the other hand, found Paris a veritable pleasure dome.
William Steinmetz, now 83 and a wealthy man living in Lake Geneva, Wis., had competed in three races at Chamonix; a 12th in the 1,500 meters was his best result. He remembers Paris with much greater pleasure than he remembers Chamonix: "The Folies-Berg√®re was first on the list. All six skaters and the manager went. There were those nude girls on stage, and they'd come sell you booze at intermission. We bought only coffee or soda pop, but I will tell you that on occasion we stayed out all night, and on one occasion we did wind up with some of those girls."
Jewtraw recalls Paris with such joy that his remarks are often delayed by long bouts of laughter. "Oh God, it was like my first day off the farm," he says. "I called all the girls 'Chérie' no matter what their names were. I was deathly afraid of disease, and I was also afraid of headlines like SKATERS ALL CAUGHT IN FRENCH CATHOUSE. I was so innocent."
Steinmetz recalls this episode involving the naive Jewtraw: "We decided it was time to deprive Charlie of his virginity. I told one of the French girls that he'd never been with a woman. She was very intrigued by this fact, and she went in a room with him. A few minutes later Charlie was yelling at her, 'Get out! Get out! My mother told me about you girls!' She came out mad as hell. Oh, how we laughed."
Upon being told of Steinmetz' tale, Jewstraw laughs until tears roll down his cheeks and then says, "No, no, it was like this. The girl undressed and I said to her, 'I'll give you five dollars, Chérie, on one condition: that you don't tell the boys that we didn't make love.' See, I had made a solemn promise to my darling mother back in Lake Placid not to do anything with the girls in Paris. I meant to keep that promise. Well, for some reason, the girl got mad. She went running into the hall. I yelled at her. She opened another door, and there was Bill Steinmetz, bare naked. And he was with a girl who was also bare naked. But she was from Cleveland not from Paris! Oh God...and Bill was so mad...." Jewtraw cannot continue, because he's laughing too hard.
From Paris, Steinmetz and Jewtraw and another U.S. skater went to London. Among the clientéle de luxe they'd met in Chamonix was an Englishwoman who had invited them to have dinner in London with her and with a mysterious "Lord and Lady Ashley." Amazingly enough, that's exactly what happened: The U.S. skaters, dressed in their Olympic sweaters, dined in a luxurious London home with an authentic Lord and Lady Ashley. Steinmetz says now that this event changed his life forever: "Boy, were those people sophisticated! I watched them. I listened to them, and I saw right then that I didn't know anything but skating. I swore I was going to broaden my horizons." Steinmetz had been a $15-a-week apprentice electrician, but once he got home he took public-speaking courses and eventually started his own business and made a fortune selling electric toasters, fans and radios.
Jewtraw's life also changed because of his Olympic trip. He never did go to Bowdoin. Instead, the Spalding sporting goods firm offered him a job doing a few skating exhibitions. Jewtraw progressed in the company until, by early 1929, he was acting manager of the Spalding store at the Lake Placid Club. He recalls with a faraway look: "It was a golden opportunity—$60 a week and I lived at the club. Then it turned out that the district manager didn't like me. He was a Yale man; all the big shots at Spalding were Yale men. I was just an Olympic skater. They backed him. I had to resign."
Jewtraw got a job in the men's department at Macy's in New York City. He got married in 1930 to Natalie Brewer, and they had high hopes. "I just wanted to make enough to support the woman I loved, and I would have been all right," he says. "But then everything went wrong. The Depression came, and it was terrible. People didn't buy anything." Macy's laid him off in 1933. "I banged around; I kept moving to new jobs in stores," he says. In 1938, he began working as rink custodian and part-time instructor at the Gay Blade, a public skating emporium at 52nd and Broadway. "It got to be a disagreeable job," says Jewtraw. "I worked 12, 14 hours a day. I gave lessons for a dollar and gave 50 cents back to the management. People knew I was once some kind of a famous skater. No one knew about the Olympics."
Jewtraw quit the Gay Blade in 1940 and got a job as a security guard for First National City Bank in New York. He stayed there until 1962, when he retired. "I carried a pistol all those years," he recalls, "but I was fortunate. I never took it out of the holster. When I first started, a bank executive said, 'Charlie, always remember you're the first face most people see when they come in the bank. Be nice.' I looked at the job as public relations as much as security. I liked the work except for my feet. The floor was terrazzo. At Chase and Bankers Trust the guards had mats, but not at City Bank. It was like standing on a cold tombstone all day. My feet hurt all the time near the end."
Charlie and Natalie have been in Palm Beach for eight years now. They rent a small apartment not far from the beach. They live on Social Security and some savings. In 1980, his old friends in Lake Placid tried to get him to come back to his hometown for the Winter Olympics. He would have been a very honored guest up there. "I couldn't go," he says sadly. "I was real depressed after an operation, and I didn't want to talk to anybody except my darling Natalie. She took care of me. Now I'm taking care of her." His wife is becoming increasingly crippled from arthritis, so Jewtraw shops, cooks and keeps house for the two of them.
He says quietly, "Fame doesn't bring all that one might think. That gold medal never changed me at all. I never meant to capitalize on it." He pauses, blinks as if in surprise, and says, "But then I never had a chance to, did I?" There isn't a trace of bitterness or even resignation in Jewtraw's voice. "I donated the medal to the Smithsonian in 1957. It didn't matter to me. It wasn't solid gold. It was just silver with some gold coating." He pauses and gazes through the open window at the palm fronds. "It really bothered me when I found out about the medal not being solid gold. It wasn't the value. It was the principle of the thing that got me."
Lightning struck Charlie Jewtraw in Chamonix, but it only struck once. He never went to Europe again.