The VIII Winter Olympic Games

On a cold spring day in 1955, in Paris, France, Alexander Cushing managed to secure Squaw Valley USA as the site for the VIII Olympic Winter Games. To this day, many wonder how he convinced the International Olympic Committee to select a town with no mayor, and a ski resort with just one chairlift, two rope tows, and a fifty-room lodge. Some say that Cushing's interest in the Olympics was a lark. In fact, he was hopeful from the start and his success evidenced steadfast determination. It all began on December 26th, 1954 when he spotted an article in the San Francisco Chronicle stating that Reno, NV and Anchorage, AK had submitted bids to hold the 1960 Winter Olympics. Wouldn't it be marvelous publicity for Cushing's young resort to announce that Squaw Valley was also prepared to host the international event? Though his first call to a newspaper was met with laughter, Cushing pressed on and found an ally in Curly Grieves, the Sports Editor for the San Francisco Examiner. An eight column banner headline soon announced Squaw Valley's bid for the Games.

Word spread quickly and on January 7th, 1955 Cushing addressed the U.S. Olympic Committee in New York. Though prepared with a speech and film, he didn't get an opportunity to use either. The committee was so engaged with the "idea of a California valley with an annual snowfall of 450 inches, and a downhill event with areas that had never even been schussed successfully," recalls Cushing, that he found himself buried under an avalanche of questions and controversy. In the end, Squaw Valley emerged as the USOC's choice for the 1960 Winter Games.

Upon hearing the news, International Olympic Committee President Avery Brundage told Cushing, "the USOC obviously has taken leave of their senses." IOC member John J. Garland advised, "I think you are on a wild goose chase. Innsbruck has the 1960 bid locked up." With an eclectic but knowledgeable group including Pulitzer Prize-winning Chicago Daily News columnist George Weller, friend Marshall Haseltine, and French war hero Joe Marillac, Cushing organized a powerful campaign. He lobbied for support from all over the world, including the South American delegates, who ordinarily took little interest in the Winter Games. Cushing commissioned a 3,000 pound model of Squaw Valley, so large that it didn't fit in the IOC Exhibit Hall. He convinced the U.S. Ambassador to have it placed in a room at the Embassy. Viewing the model required a fifteen-minute walk from the IOC Headquarters, which Cushing repeated with each group of delegates. Whether it was the campaign, the model, or Cushing's presentation, something swayed the committee members. Garmisch Partenkirschen and St. Moritz were eliminated in the first vote. Innsbruck and Squaw Valley were left to vie for the Games until a second vote.

Committee members continued to assure Cushing that his case was hopeless. Innsbruck even began assigning living quarters to various delegations. Marillac however, proceeded to convince the European-dominated Federacion Internacionale du Ski (FIS), who were committed to the Alps' glory, that Squaw Valley was technically sufficient. Cushing's campaign succeeded through the power of an idea - a return to the Olympic ideals of simplicity with a focus on athleticism and diversity. His bid, written in French, English, and Spanish, declared that "the Olympics belong to the world. Not just one continent."

On June 17, 1955, Cushing and his team had visited forty-two IOC delegates, yet remained uncertain of victory. Then, with a final vote of 32 to 30, the IOC chose Squaw Valley to host the Games. Word spread quickly across the globe, followed by shock and disbelief. While Cushing's team celebrated, athletes wondered about winter in California. Cushing immediately began work to attract top people to the Organizing Committee and California started planning the necessary infrastructure.

During the next four and a half years, the Squaw Valley team, the California Organizing Committee, the State of California, Placer County and thousands of others worked to build a venue worthy of the Olympics. Freeways, hotels, motels, and restaurants were built in short order. Willy Schaeffler, an Olympic course designer, arrived immediately after the Games were awarded to Squaw Valley. He walked the mountain for four days before appearing in Cushing's office and declaring the site worthy. Because of his involvement in the 1936 Games and the 1952 World Championships in Aspen, he understood international standards, and worked tirelessly to create the skiing events for the Games. Access roads, bridges, chairlifts, athletes' housing, the Blyth Ice Arena, a speed skating oval, and a ski jump sprang from the Valley floor. Two unique buildings, the Nevada Visitors' Center, once the Opera House, and now the Far East Center, and the California Visitors' Center, now the Members' Locker building, still serve Squaw Valley USA today.

The VIII Winter Olympic Games, held in Squaw Valley in 1960, marked many notable events and achievements:

  • 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 snowless 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.