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A North American Perspective on the Olympics



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1956 : Italy hosts the Winter Games at Cortina d’Ampezzo. Someone finally beats the Canucks at hockey; unfortunately it’s the Soviets… and the Americans. U.S. skaters take five of six figure skating medals and Austria’s Toni Sailer sweeps all three Alpine skiing events: a first. Canadians Frances Dafoe and Norris Bowden win silver in pairs figure skating, the shiniest of only three medals Canucks bring home.

Medal count: USSR 16; USA 7, which is less than all the Scandinavian countries too.

1956 : The "Friendly Games" are held down unda in Melbourne… in November. Notwithstanding the moniker, the geopolitical highlight of the games is the new demonstration sport of boycotting. Egypt, Lebanon and Iraq boycott the games to protest British and French involvement in the Suez crisis. Spain, Switzerland and the Netherlands boycott because of the iron-fisted way the Soviets dealt with the Hungarian revolution. Hungary and the USSR compete however… against each other in a water polo match marred by violence, possibly the only time anyone other than the competitors themselves found a water polo match interesting.

Medal count: USSR 98; US 74. Churchill was right to be worried about them… and those fence-sitting Swiss who best the Americans as well.

1960 : Squaw Valley hosts the return of the Winter Games to the US. Walt Disney is Head of Pageantry. CBS pays an unheard of sum, $50,000, to televise the games and U.S. giant-to-be IBM tabulates the results on an early mainframe. Bobsleigh is cancelled when the organizing committee refuses to build such an expensive, wasteful run for the nine nations who would compete. Oh Whistler, where for art thou cojones. The US hockey team wins gold for the first time as the Canadians continue their slide toward mediocrity. National pride is saved from oblivion when Anne Heggtviet wins gold in women’s slalom skiing and becomes the first non-European to ever win the FIS slalom and overall world championship.

Medal count: USSR 21; USA 10. Somebody check the computer.

1960 : The Games in Rome are the first to be televised worldwide. Oh the agony of defeat. The gold in light-heavyweight boxing is won by young phenom Cassius Clay. And beating long odds, 20-year-old American Wilma Rudolph wins three gold medals in the 100m, 200m and 4x100m relay. The odds Wilma beat were polio in her preteens.

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