SI Vault
Andre Laguerre
February 13, 1956
The Russians won and, oddly enough, their dedicated discipline was paralleled by that of the principal U.S. winners—the figure skaters
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
February 13, 1956

Lessons Of Cortina

The Russians won and, oddly enough, their dedicated discipline was paralleled by that of the principal U.S. winners—the figure skaters

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue

When the others have faded, one vivid and significant memory of the seventh Winter Games will linger.

It was near midnight at the stadium. The Dolomites were dim outlines against the frosty blue sky. The flags of 32 nations hung protectively around the dancing Olympic flame, soon to be extinguished. In the stands the biggest crowd since opening day was giving a generous hand to the Soviet hockey players who, by beating Canada 2-0, had just acquired the proud title of Olympic hockey champions.

For two weeks I had watched that Soviet hockey bench, as the squad, smooth as a well-oiled, high-speed machine, glided from victory to victory. As they huddled in their blankets, their faces, which often looked cruel to Western eyes, rarely betrayed a flicker of elation. Others could casually give colleagues a friendly smack on the rump in recognition of good play, shout encouragement from the bench or bang the boards with their sticks when a goal came along. Even when, one night from last, they had crushed the U.S. 4-0, the Russian players barely permitted themselves a half smile. But when the final victory was theirs, they went crazy.

They kissed each other, they kissed their coaches, they jumped and sang. One player had blood trickling from a cut in his head, and a colleague playfully stretched out a hand and smeared the blood over the other's face.

That demonstration testified to two things. It testified to release from a discipline, rigidly imposed from the start of the competition, unlike anything Western athletes had known. There we had, in a psychological nutshell, what we are up against in competing with the Soviet Union.

The demonstration also testified to a fierce joy, from which was lacking the gaiety which marks a Western reaction to triumph. This, Russia's seventh gold medal of the Games, tasted sweetest of all. For here was success wrested directly from the West, at a great Western sport.

The hockey success consecrated Russia's victory at the Games, which is definite by any system of point counting (seven gold medals to Austria's four, 16 medals of all kinds to 11 for Austria).

But, though definite, it was not overwhelming in all departments.

On skates, the Russians dominated. It was a different story on skis. At long-distance skiing they merely shared top honors with the Scandinavian trio—Sweden, Finland and Norway. In the alpine skiing, dashes straight downhill or through the gates which constitute the slalom, they were never in the picture with the nations of the Alpine range, who traditionally capture most of these events. Among these, Austria led the way, thanks mainly to the miracle boy from Kitzb�hel, Toni Sailer, who was the only triple gold medalist of the Games.

A special pat on the back must be reserved for little Switzerland, which picked up three gold medals. Two Swiss girls, Ren�e Colliard and Madeleine Berthod, outskied the Austrian women in the slalom and downhill races. Berthod, a mousy wisp of a girl who doesn't look as if she could pick up a heavy suitcase, was already moral winner of the giant slalom before she rocketed over the downhill course nearly five seconds ahead of the field. Madeleine ("I am so happy when I race, I light up inside") must now be reckoned the world's champion woman skier, replacing Andy Mead, whose ever-bubbling courage does not compensate for the fact that she now seems past her best.

Continue Story
1 2 3 4 5 6