Squaw Winter Olympics hits 60th anniversary
Today marks the 60th anniversary of athletes from across 30 nations marching into Squaw Valley’s Blyth Arena for the opening ceremonies of the 1960 Winter Olympics.
The games, which ran Feb. 18-28, nearly had a disastrous start, according to Eddy Ancinas, who covered the history of the 1960 Winter Olympics in her book, “Squaw Valley & Alpine Meadows: Tales from Two Valleys.”
Four days before the Olympics were set to begin, a warm storm blew into the region, according to Ancinas, bringing rain and sleet to the Sierra, while wind gusts of more than 100 mph knocked down trees and power lines.
The wet, warm weather continued to complicate things up until a day before opening ceremonies were set to take place. With thousands of cars scheduled to arrive, Squaw Valley’s 130-acre parking lot, which was a mixture of compacted snow and sawdust, had begun to thaw, threatening to turn to mud. The night before opening ceremonies, however, conditions began to turn as cold air blew in, lowering temperatures enough to freeze the lot, and turning rain into snow, covering the resort’s racecourses with a fresh layer of powder.
The storm continued to dump snow through the following morning, making travel into the valley difficult. Among those making their way through the traffic jam toward opening ceremonies were U.S. Vice President Richard Nixon and his wife.
The weather and traffic caused a one-hour delay to the start of opening ceremonies, and at 1 p.m., students from California and Nevada high school bands began a drum roll, signaling the raising of the Greek, American, and 1960 Olympic games’ flags.
From there, athletes marched from the stormy weather into Blyth Arena. And as Vice President Nixon declared the games open, the snow suddenly stopped, fireworks were shot off, and thousands of balloons and pigeons were released into the sky. Andrea Mead Lawrence, 1952 alpine gold medalist in slalom and giant slalom, skied down through the powder carrying the Olympic torch. She handed it to 1952 speed skating gold medalist Ken Henry, who after taking a lap around the outdoor rink, climbed the steps at the Tower of Nations and lit the Olympic cauldron.
The opening ceremonies were produced by Walt Disney, who served as the chairman of the Pageantry Committee. Disney oversaw the creation of the Tower of Nations, according to Olympic.org, organized for 5,000 entertainers to be on hand, the release of 2,000 pigeons, and a military gun salute.
Snow continued falling through the night, and was followed by a week of sunshine. During the next 10 days, the Squaw Valley games would become the first Olympics where a woman — gold medal figure skater Carol Heiss — took the Olympic oath; the first games to host women’s speed skating, the first games to host biathlon; the first time the games were televised exclusively by one network, CBS, which purchased the rights for $50,000 and also introduced instant replay for the first time; the first Winter Olympics appearance by South Africa; the first games where results and scores were electronically tabulated; and the first time metal skis were used.
A ticket to all 11 days of the games, according to a Dec. 2, 1958 post in The Bend Bulletin, cost between $60 and $250. The daily price for a ticket was $7.50. Newly opened hotels in Truckee and Tahoe City sold out at $25 per person a night, according to Ancinas.
Athletes from the United States went on to win gold medals in women’s figure skating (Heiss), men’s figure skating (David Jenkins), and in hockey. The U.S. finished the games with a total of 10 medals. The Soviet Union led the way with 21 medals, including seven gold.
For more information on the history of Squaw Valley, via “Squaw Valley & Alpine Meadows: Tales from Two Valleys,” visit eddyancinas.com.
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