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Cecil Smith and Melville Rogers competing in 1924 at the first Winter Olympic Games in Chamonix, France. (Photo: National Library of France)

Cecil Smith, a 15-year-old girl, represented Canada at the first Winter Olympics 95 years ago

The figure skater's presence at the 1924 Games sparked interest in the sport and launched her career.

By Amy van den Berg

January 25, 1924 was a big day for Canada, especially Toronto-born Cecil Smith, who, at the age of 15, was the first female athlete to represent Canada at what would later become the Winter Olympics.

95 years ago today, the International Olympic Committee’s first winter competition, named the “International Winter Sports Week” kicked off. The competition took place from January 25 to February 5 in Chamonix, France, and was later recognized as the first Winter Olympic Games.

Smith competed in ladies’ singles skating as well as in pairs alongside famed skater Melville Rogers, who dominated men’s skating in the 1920s.

Canadian figure skating saw a comeback during the 1920s, a happier decade than the darker years of World War I. Although Smith didn’t quite finish on top—she placed 6th individually and 7th in pairs alongside Rogers—her presence at the games sparked interest in the sport and garnered her much respect among figure skaters and fans alike.

Cecil Smith and Melville Rogers came in 7th place in the pairs competition in 1924. Smith would also place 6th individually, and was the first woman to represent Canada in the Winter Olympic Games. (Photo: National Library of France)

Smith began skating when she was four years old. She had a patch of ice outside of her home in Toronto, and as she told the Globe and Mail in a 1986 interview, "My mother had to come out at 6 o'clock to get me to eat because all I wanted to do was skate."

She competed again in the 1928 Olympic Games, where she finished 5th. Then in 1930, she became the first Canadian to win a world championship figure skating medal, where she placed second.

She told the Globe that she was chosen again for the Olympics in 1932, but she “got engaged instead, and never went." After she retired, she continued to coach figure skating in Canada and the U.S., and watched the sport regularly on TV, telling the newspaper in 1986: "I think we spun better in our day but now they do twice as well in the jumps."

The pioneering athlete was inducted into the Skate Canada Hall of Fame in 1991 and passed away six years later at the age of 89.

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