This Week In History: Jan. 25-29

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Despite the fact that we are only entering the fourth week of the new year, 2021 has already proven to be a historic and memorable year. In the past three weeks, the world has watched the United States face an insurrection, an impeachment and an inauguration.  

In an effort to give my readers a break from the American news cycles, This Week in History will travel abroad for stories from the past to remind everyone that the United States is not alone in its struggles, and not alone in its triumphs.  

On Jan. 25, 1924, 75 years ago, the first Winter Olympics were held in Chamonix-Mont-Blanc, France. 

While the first modern Olympics were held in 1896, the first Winter Olympics were not held for an additional 28 years. Winter sports had long been in existence, but seldom were they played on the world stage. 

In 1901, Sweden held the first competition closest to what we would think of as the Winter Olympics. Called the Nordic Games, Sweden’s competition hosted athletes from the Scandinavian nations of Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark and Iceland. The Games were a smashing success for Scandinavians and foreigners alike, beginning the push for an athletic competition focused solely on winter sports. 

The International Olympics Committee (IOC) had included some winter sports in the summer festivities for a number of years before the Winter Olympics were officially established. The 1908 Summer Olympics in London included figure skating for the first time in sporting history. However, the weather was too warm to keep the ice frozen in the middle of August, so figure skating had to be postponed until October after all the other events had already concluded. The 1920 Summer Olympics in Antwerp, Belgium added ice hockey to the competition, with the Canadian team winning the first of many Olympic gold medals it would receive in the history of international ice hockey. 

Called the International Winter Sports Week, the first Winter Olympics were a trial run to see if foreign nations would be interested in competing during the winter months, and if spectators would brave the cold air of the French Alps to cheer on their nation’s finest. With the event’s tremendous success and recognition, the IOC officially established the Olympic Winter Games to be held every four years following 1924. 

The next Winter Olympics are slated for February of 2022 in Beijing, China. Only time will tell if these games will be able to take place in the same way the world has always known them. 

On Jan. 26, 1788, 233 years ago, the first British fleet arrived and established the first European settlement in the modern nation of Australia. 

Led by Captain Arthur Phillip of the HMS Sirius, a fleet of 11 ships landed in what is now Port Jackson in the Australian state of New South Wales. Among the First Fleet were 736 convicts, as part of the British Crown’s policy of deporting criminals to their foreign colonies. 

During the next 60 years, the British government would exile approximately 50,000 prisoners to Australia as a means to purify their society and send their problems to “the land down under.” (Fun Fact: The U.S. state of Georgia also started as a penal colony, where English prisoners were sent to rid the British Isles of its unfavorable citizens.) These convicts would eventually start families and give way to new generations of Australians that currently inhabit the continent. 

Today, Jan. 26 marks the celebration of Australia Day, a national holiday to celebrate the nation of Australia and remember the anniversary of the First Fleet. Similar to the Fourth of July, Aussies will celebrate this week with fireworks and beach barbecues. While this may sound odd for the middle of winter, it should be reminded that the Southern Hemisphere of our Earth is currently in the middle of summer, so January has phenomenal beach weather. 

That being said, Australia Day has been the cause of controversy as it marks the beginning of the Australian colonial period where the lands of the Aboriginal Australians were seized by the British Empire. Descendants of the Indigenous peoples of the Australian mainland and its islands have since lobbied for a change in date of Australia Day to not honor the date at which a new nation was formed at the expense of a nation that had already existed for generations. 

While the world may seem like a large place, there is more that unites us than divides us. If we look at the stories of our pasts, we can realize how much in common we truly have with those who live thousands of miles away. 

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