A backstory of the 1960 Squaw Valley Olympic games

BodegaI swear, for every WordPress post that I make, like yesterday’s, the Facebook responses and the “Comments” sections of the posts are outnumbered four-to-one by emails to me, which the reader doesn’t see and which defeats the fun of the post! I’m therefore writing another post about the Blyth Arena post of a few days ago, (and, as one reader wrote, is “Blyth” spelled correctly without an “e” at the end?) Yes.Blyth Arena2

 

“Didn’t the arena collapse after a snowstorm weighed down the roof?” Yes, in 1983 a major snowstorm struck and the snowload collapsed the arena. The backstory is that the Squaw Valley developers had wanted to raze the arena. Permission was repeatedly denied, I think by the State of California, who owned the Olympic assets in the valley. The arena had survived larger snow loads, plenty of them, but this one took it down and it was never rebuilt. End of story. Maybe.

“Did the sun really come out just before the opening ceremony?” Yes. The weather was foul, snowy, a blizzard. The doves that Walt Disney brought to be released stayed in their pens in the trailer. The band, an amalgamation of every high school in the area conducted by a music director from USC, couldn’t keep their instruments in tune against the cold air. But the spot came for the torch to be brought down the hill –  Little Papoose Peak, behind the jump hill. “Might as well…” the director said and the clouds parted, the sun broke through and Andrea Mead Lawrence carried the torch down the hill in full sunlight, no wind, and handed it off to Kenneth Henry of the UK, a speedskater who took it once around the oval  ice arena and lit the torch.

And the skies once again became cloudy…but the Olympics were underway, Richard Nixon did the prayer and Karl Malden recited the opening words.

Yes, the heavens parted…and we made some ‘firsts’ –  the first time a computer was used to tabulate scores – the first time a woman (skater Carol Heiss) took the Olympic oath for all athletes – it was the first year metal skis were permitted and Jean Vaurnet won Gold on them in Downhill, (yeah. then he went on to make sunglasses!) – we had the biggest Olympic jump hill (80 meters) – it was the first live broadcast of (segments of) a sporting event – dammit, I did a dynamite column about the Eighth Winter Games and now I can’t find it.

Another hot button for readers this weekend: Did a Russian die in the championship USA/USSR ice hockey game at Blyth Arena?

Many readers were there – in the first place, it wasn’t the championship Gold match, it was a semifinal. If they guy didn’t die, he’s still counting birdies from his shot into the wall by our goalie. The Cold War was in full swing, the US didn’t like Russia anyway and the feelings were mutual and it showed on the ice (I was working sound for NBC so had a pretty good vantage point). Their goalie had pulled some chickenshit stunts and thus paid the price. We won. And we won the Gold the next day over Czechoslovakia. It was an upset, I think that we won by a bunch of goals in the final minutes. We weren’t supposed to, but we had heart. I didn’t work that game, but heard it on our radio web.

The coolest part of the whole 1960 Olympics for many of us grunt workers was subtle: The Olympic officials, out of respect to the Czechs, cleared the scoreboard of our 9-4 win at Blyth Arena for the closing ceremony. But as soon as the flame dwindled and died and Richard Nixon called upon the Children of the World to gather four years hence in Innsbruck, Austria for the Ninth Winter Games, the stadium lights were dimmed. But all of us grunts’ eyes were on the arena scoreboard, which was then re-lit without fanfare to display “USSR – 2 USA – 3,” the score of the best match ever waged in Blyth. And we knew that a suggestion from the vanquished Russian coach helped us beat the Czechs.

And thousand of people saw the Limeliters, the Kingston Trio, Peter Paul & Mary and so many others in that venue but failed to see the Cold War symbol over their heads. which remained until Blyth Arena collapsed under mysterious circumstances on March 29, 1983.

 

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