On Thursday, February 18, 1960, under storm-threatening skies, the greatest winter athletes in the world gathered in Squaw Valley.
It was the beginning of the VIII Olympic Winter Games and many notable events and achievements like Carol Heiss pictured here who won a Gold Medal in Women’s Figure Skating.
As the sun broke through briefly on February 18th, 2,000 pigeons were released into the air. A throng of 1,000 competitors and 20,000 spectators stood hushed as the Olympic Torch completed a 9,000 mile odyssey from Europe and was placed in front of the Tower of Nations.
Following the Olympic Oath, taken by figure skater Carol Heiss on behalf of all participating athletes, and the Star Spangled Banner, Avery Bundy declared the Games “open” while the sky erupted into a kaleidoscope of fireworks and colorful balloons. Thus began the VIII Olympic Winter Games at Squaw Valley, thanks for Alex Cushing.
At that time, the 1960 Winter Games were the largest ever held, with 34 nations competing in 15 Alpine and ski jumping events, 8 speed skiing contests, 3 figure skating competitions and 28 hockey matches. Making its Olympic debut was the women’s speed skiing and the men’s biathlon, a combination of Nordic skiing and rifle marksmanship.
The VIII Winter Olympic Games were highlighted by many other Winter Olympic “firsts”:
- The 1960 Winter Olympics were the first Games held in the Western United States and the first to be televised.
- The Olympic Village Inn was built to house more than 750 athletes; it allowed all athletes to be housed under one roof for the first and only time in modern Olympic history.
- Computers were used to tabulate results for the first time. The glass-walled IBM processor drew almost as many observers as the competitions.
- After a virtually snow less early season, a heavy Sierra storm moved in to save the Games.
- At the Opening Ceremonies, dense snowfall greeted the Greek delegation as it led the athletes’ procession. The storm broke and the sky cleared just as Vice President Richard Nixon declared the Games officially open. Walt Disney, Head of Pageantry, oversaw the release of two thousand Doves into the cold air, and 4,000 California high school bandsmen provided accompaniment for Andrea Meade Lawrence as she skied down Papoose to hand the torch to Kenneth Henry, who lit the Olympic Flame.
- Figure skater Carol Heiss took the Olympic Oath on behalf of all participating athletes, marking the first time that a woman enjoyed the honor. She later won the gold medal with first place rankings from all nine judges.
- The largest group yet gathered to see a winter sports program in America convened on February 22, 1960 as over 47,000 spectators packed into the Valley.
- Frenchman Jean Vuarnet became the first Olympian to compete on metal skis, a pair of Allais 60’s. He won gold for France in the Men’s Downhill.
- At the height of the Cold War, with the whole world watching, the U.S. defeated the Russian Hockey Team in a heart pounding, down to the wire, 3-2 victory.
- Then, with the help of Russian Team Captain Nikolai “Solly” Sologubov, the U.S. won its first gold medal in Hockey. In the minutes before the last period of the championship game with Czechoslovakia, “Solly” told the Americans to take breaths from an oxygen tank. Each player was given a “hit” and the “Team of Destiny” scored six goals in the last period, beating Czechoslovakia 9-4.
The VIII Winter Olympics propelled Squaw Valley into the world spotlight and spurred a tremendous growth in winter sports especially Alpine skiing. Thanks to the vision of Alexander C. Cushing, Founder of Squaw Valley Ski Corporation, Tahoe has never been the same. In fact, it has only become better.
Located at High Camp, the Olympic Winter Games Museum showcases a unique collection of memorabilia, news articles, and video presentations detailing the many magical moments that took place at Squaw Valley USA.
The museum is open daily at High Camp. Admission is free with your Cable Car ride.
Photos and Credits: IOC Olympic Museum Collections
– Carol Heiss, American, Gold in individual figure skating
– Helmut Recknagel, German, recorded the longest jump of each of the two rounds in the 1960 ski jumping contest and won the gold medal by 4.6 points.
Story information provided by Squaw Valley USA