Editor’s note: In the buildup to the Winter Olympic Games beginning Feb. 12 in Vancouver, British Columbia, the Steamboat Today has partnered with the Colorado Ski & Snowboard Museum on a series of articles that reflect on past Winter Olympic Games, beginning with the first Winter Olympics in 1924. This is the fourth installment in that series.
More than 1 million spectators flocked to Innsbruck, Austria, for the 1964 Winter Olympics. Innsbruck won the Olympic bid against Calgary and Lahti, Finland. India, Mongolia and North Korea debuted at these Winter Olympics, which held 34 events in six sports.
Although more than 1,000 athletes from 36 nations participated, the 1964 games were marred by tragedy. Just before the games, Australian Alpine skier Ross Milne and British luge slider Kazimierz Kay-Skrzypeski died during training. Additionally, three years prior, the entire U.S. figure skating team and family members were killed when their plane crashed in Belgium en route to the World Championships in Prague. The 1961 World Championships were subsequently canceled, and afterward the entire U.S. figure skating team went into a period of rebuilding.
Commercialism played a large role at Innsbruck and would continue to pose a problem at future winter games. Thirty-four TV networks were represented, and IBM underwrote the new computing system with a corporate sponsorship approaching $1 million. The introduction of computer technology transformed Olympic competition. Results were available in a matter of seconds, instead of hours, and skiers were clocked to the hundredth of a second for the first time.
Because of lack of snow, the Austrian army carved 20,000 bricks of ice from a mountain top and carried them to the bobsled and luge runs and also brought 40,000 cubic meters of snow to the Alpine skiing courses. They packed the snow by hand and foot.
The U.S. Olympic Team finished eighth in the medal tally with six (one gold, two silver and three bronze). Terry McDermott won gold in the men’s 500-meter speed skating, and a bronze was given to Scott Allen for his performance in the men’s singles figure skating.
The 1964 Olympic Games brought a long-awaited breakthrough for the U.S. men’s ski team when almost 30 years of frustration came to a glorious end. In the slalom race, Billy Kidd won a silver medal, finishing fourteen hundredths of a second behind Pepi Stiegler. The U.S.’s Jimmie Heuga won bronze. Another American star was Jean Saubert, who won two medals (bronze in the slalom and silver in the giant slalom).
A native of Stowe, Vt., Kidd was a top junior ski racer at an early age. He became the first U.S. man (along with Jimmie Huega) to earn an Olympic medal in Alpine skiing. He also placed third in the combined (a non-medal event), eighth in the giant slalom and 16th in the downhill. In 1966, he won multiple big races in Europe but also experienced the first of two major injuries that almost ended his career (an ankle sprain and, later, a broken leg in Chile).
After winning the World Cup slalom following the 1964 Olympics, Kidd was regarded as the best slalom skier in North America. He competed in the 1968 Olympics (finishing fifth in the giant slalom and 15th in downhill), 1968 World Cup, and the 1970 World Championships (where he won gold in the combined and bronze in the slalom), but he then retired from the World Cup circuit. He then joined the pro circuit started by former U.S. coach Bob Beattie. Kidd won the pro championship later that year, becoming the only racer to hold world titles in two circuits at once. In 1972, he retired from pro racing and relocated to Steamboat Springs, where he still serves as the director of skiing.
Jimmie Heuga, who grew up in Squaw Valley, Calif., also began competing when he was young and even appeared in a Warren Miller film at age 9. After making the U.S. Ski Team at 15, Heuga continued to race for coach Bob Beattie in the 1960s at the University of Colorado. He was the 1963 NCAA champion in slalom. In 1966, Heuga went to Portillo, Chile, for the World Championships and placed sixth in the slalom and fourth in the combined. He also competed in the 1968 Olympics (10th in the giant slalom and seventh in the slalom).
After the Olympics, Heuga joined the pro racing team but was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1970, which derailed his ski racing career at age 27. Today, he remains an advocate for multiple sclerosis as the founder of Can Do Multiple Sclerosis (formerly the Heuga Center for Multiple Sclerosis). Heuga lives in Longmont. Heuga and Kidd are members of the Colorado Ski & Snowboard Hall of Fame.
1968 Winter Olympics
Grenoble, France, won the bid for the 1968 Winter Games, which featured 35 events in six sports. However, only skating and hockey events were held in Grenoble itself; the rest of the events were held in five distant locations around the Dauphine region. Because of this, and the fact that there were three separate Olympic Villages for athletes from 37 competing nations, there was some controversy about the decentralization of these games.
This Olympiad held many firsts for the Winter Games: East and West Germany entered as separate countries, the IOC began ordering drug and gender tests, and Grenoble adopted the first (unofficial) Olympic mascot — Schuss, a styled skier. These were also the first games to use “Bugler’s Dream” by Leo Arnauld as the theme for TV coverage, which was broadcast in color for the first time.
Commercialism proved to be an even bigger issue at these games, after skiers allowed images to be used in advertisements while receiving large under-the-table payments. Consequently, skis were taken frsom athletes immediately after competition to prevent displaying trademarks to the media.
Jean-Claude Killy, of France, swept all thee Alpine events (the only other athlete to do so was Toni Sailer in 1956), but only after one of the greatest disputes in Winter Olympics history. Killy’s rival, Karl Schranz, of Austria, claimed that he had to skid to a halt during the slalom event after someone crossed the race path. Schranz beat Killy in the rematch, but the Jury of Appeal decided to disqualify him anyway, making Killy the winner.
The U.S. finished ninth in the medal tally with seven medals (one gold, five silver, and one bronze). Peggy Fleming earned the gold in ladies singles figure skating, and Tim Wood was awarded silver in men’s singles figure skating. However, the rest of the medals were won in speed skating events: Jenny Fish, Dianne Holum and Mary Meyers all tied for silver in the women’s 500-meter, while Terry McDermott won silver in the men’s 500-meter. The bronze was given to Dianne Holum in the women’s 1,000-meter race.