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Into Squaw Valley they pour, 800 athletes clad in the brilliant parkas of 30 national teams, the best skiers and skaters in the world. Now the long years of training are over; in this remote little valley on the California-Nevada line, sport's greatest winter spectacle—the VIII Olympic Winter Games—is about to begin.
It will be the first Olympic competition held in America in 28 years and, partly because of this, the problems seemed almost insurmountable from the first (see page 36). Even in the last few weeks, on the eve of the Games, a surplus of problems seemed to survive. On Feb. 1 the roof of the brand-new $4 million ice arena developed leaks. A relatively docile Sierra blizzard sent winds of 100 miles an hour moaning around Squaw Peak, dumping an additional load of snow on the valley floor. An avalanche completely blocked the main highway from San Francisco, put a 60-foot kink in a transcontinental cable and caused a near blackout in communications. Then, last weekend, a new crisis threatened. Torrential rain and winds of gale force menaced the survival of administration buildings as well as ski runs and ice rinks. The horrible possibility emerged that California's first Winter Games might be a literal washout.
Besides the usual weather difficulties, Squaw Valley has been afflicted with a mild dose of international bickering, the kind that has become as much a part of the Games as the Olympic oath. European nations threatened to boycott the entire affair because of accommodations they considered "quite unacceptable." The Greeks wouldn't allow use of the sacred Olympic flame, and the torch had to be fired up in Norway instead. Olympic Chancellor Otto Mayer worried that lavish entertainment plans were turning Squaw Valley into a "second Disneyland." East and West Germany finally agreed to compete under one flag, only to have the East Germans discover that visas of 10 officials had been held up by the U.S. State Department. And with time growing short, Nationalist China, India, the Federation Internationale de Ski and the International Olympic Committee became involved in a four-cornered controversy that finally induced India to withdraw its one-man ski team and might keep the Formosans out, too. The argument ostensibly arose from an interpretation of a rule technicality, but because of a recent controversy it still managed to leave clouds of political intrigue hovering over the Games.
Yet on Thursday of next week, when Andrea Mead Lawrence comes winging down Papoose Peak, torch held high, and the athletes of those 31 nations—or 30, depending upon what happens to Nationalist China when the IOC meets this weekend-parade onto the valley floor, the Winter Olympics will be off and running on schedule. As usual, it will be a wonderful show.
More people will see more of what is going on at Squaw Valley than was possible at any Winter Olympics which came before. Not that the crowds will be as large, but, once there, they can see; Squaw Valley is small (see map), and it is possible for a spectator to reach any area of competition in a matter of minutes. Also, CBS has scheduled 10 hours of live coverage of the Games; never before has television paid this much attention to winter sports.
The ice arena, roof now calked, will seat only 8,500, but spectator space for outdoor speed skating, ice hockey and ski jumping events is virtually unlimited. On the ski trails the only restrictive factor is man's unwillingness to climb up a mountain and stand, freezing in the snow, while the races are going on. But it isn't necessary to freeze in Squaw Valley all the time; two huge spectator centers include thawing-out space as well as hot dogs, and sometimes the sun even shines, sending temperatures as high as 60°.
The 1956 Olympics at Cortina turned out to be a Russian showpiece, and Squaw Valley will repeat in that respect. U.S.S.R. speed skaters are supreme, their Nordic skiers rank with the Scandinavians, their hockey team is very good—although maybe not quite up to beating the Canadians again. For the first time Russia has also produced a figure-skating pair that may challenge Canada, Germany and the U.S. When the Games end on Feb. 28, the Russians will have won as many as 13 of the 27 gold medals at Squaw Valley.
[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]