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Remembering the 1960 Winter Olympics

Author discusses the legacy at May 18 library presentation
By: Laura O'Brien, Journal Correspondent
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As the Reno-Tahoe region braces for a possible 2022 Winter Olympics, find out more about the 1960 Squaw Valley Olympics at the Friends of the Auburn Library’s NOON Program Friday. David Antonucci will discuss his self-published book, “Snowball’s Chance – The Story of the 1960 Olympic Winter Games.”  

The Squaw Valley Olympics boasts an impressive list of firsts, only a few of which include the first athlete’s village and, thanks to producer Walt Disney, the first opening and closing ceremonies in the celebratory spirit that has become the Olympic standard. 

“Most Olympic historians I think would concur that this was the most unique winter Olympics that’s ever been held,” said Antonucci, who lives in Lake Tahoe.

Assistant Librarian Delana Ruud has collected memorabilia from the event. She and Karri Samson have created an extensive display that can be seen at the Placer County Library in Auburn.

“The Olympics in those days was not what it is today,” said Ruud, who witnessed the Squaw Valley Olympics as a young girl.  “It was a much smaller thing, but just the same it was pretty exciting for this community.”

She said all the students from Placer High School were released to meet the Olympic torch as it passed through the Auburn town square.  For then-freshman Ruud, the highlight was seeing American ski jumping champion Roy Mikkelsen accept the torch.  

Bill Briner photographed the Squaw Valley Olympics and later served as Placer County District 5 supervisor in the 1960s.  His pictures are included in Antonucci’s book.

“We had 6 to 8 feet of new snow just before the Olympics, so we had plenty of snow, but in those days we didn’t have machines to clean and pack the snow like we do today,” Briner said.

He said 130 Marines from the base in Bridgeport readied the slopes for the events.

“They came over and boot-packed the courses.  They did that in strings of V’s that came down (the slopes) arm in arm.”

Although the ski jumps, downhill runs and ice rinks were in walking distance from the athlete’s village, Antonucci said much of the public has forgotten that the cross-country events were held 15 miles south of Squaw Valley on the west shore of Lake Tahoe in Tahoma and Homewood.

“In those days there were more cross-country skiing events than there were downhill events at the Olympics,” he said.

Antonucci founded the Olympic Trails Organizing Committee in 2000 with the goal of reopening the Olympic cross-country trails, many of which are located in Ed Z’berg Sugar Pine Point State Park.  Some trails have been reopened for the annual Olympic Heritage Celebration begun on the 50th anniversary of the Squaw Valley Games.  

Antonucci is also working to establish a permanent museum honoring the 1960 Winter Olympics as a board member for the Squaw Valley Olympic Museum Foundation.

As properly remembering the 1960 Winter Games remains important for some, the California Winter Games Committee and Reno-Tahoe Winter Games Coalition, on the Nevada side, have turned their focus toward the 2022 Winter Olympics. 

“It would certainly be interesting to get it back,” Briner said.

Antonucci said a successful bid must include the support of the local community and provisions to ensure protection of the environment.  He also said the area deserves to keep structures built for a future Olympics.  

Antonucci’s public service career includes 20 years as chief engineer and general manager of the Tahoe City Public Utility District.  He will have copies of “Snowball’s Chance” at the library for purchase and signing.

Friday is the last Noon Program before the summer.  The program resumes in September. 

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Did you know?

• The 1960 games were the first to use a computer to tabulate results.

• They were the only games to not include bobsledding, because the organizing committee refused to build an expensive bobsled run for the mere nine nations that would use it.

• Sweden's Klas Lestander won the first-ever biathlon, which combines cross-country skiing and shooting.

• The U.S. ice hockey team won the gold for the first time.

Source: Topend Sports Network

 

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NOON?Program

When: Noon Friday, May 18

Where: 350 Nevada St., Auburn

Cost: Free

Info: (530) 613-1153