The U.S. Forest Service Presents: Winter Olympics

Please Note: Primary source documents used in this post may contain harmful language. See NARA’s Statement on Potentially Harmful Language.

Are you in need of some winter sports action during the break between the Olympics and Paralympics? The U.S. Forest Service has the perfect film for you, aptly titled Winter Olympics. Winter Olympics documents the 1960 Winter Games which were held in northern California at a ski resort now known as Palisades Tahoe located in the Tahoe National Forest. The location was largely undeveloped, requiring $80 million dollars and four years to complete necessary infrastructure to support over 20,000 spectators and athletes. The 1960 games marked the first time American households could watch events in a live broadcast format.

The film Winter Olympics is from Record Group 16: Records of the Office of the Secretary of Agriculture and was produced by the Department of Agriculture to document the contributions of the U.S. Forest Service (an agency of the Department of Agriculture) to the Olympics. The clip below shows the construction of sporting venues, housing and parking areas as well as briefly describes the role of the Forest Service in maintaining a “natural forest setting.”

Clip taken from 16-P-1486, Winter Olympics

The film discusses the role of the Forest Service in keeping ski areas safe year-round as well as during the Olympic Games. Since the 1960 Games occurred in a National Forest, the Forest Service was tasked to manage the safety and provide their input on the design and location of skiing runs and jumps. The follow clips demonstrate how trained employees prevent avalanches in areas prone to the deadly occurrence.

Clip taken from 16-P-1486, Winter Olympics
Clip taken from 16-P-1486, Winter Olympics

A majority of the film focuses on the Olympic events themselves, starting with the opening ceremonies. Held at Blyth Memorial Arena and the surrounding area, the opening ceremony was planned by Chairman of the Pageantry Committee, Walt Disney. Disney took the traditional opening event and turned it into the theatrical display we think of today. He and his team evoked pageantry and fanfare with live music, large statues, fireworks, symbolic decorations, the release of 2,000 pigeons, a military gun salute and 5,000 entertainers. The following clip includes footage of the ceremony picturing the Olympic rings, Olympic flame, the United States committee, and the Olympic oath recited by American figure skater Carol Heiss.

Clip taken from 16-P-1486, Winter Olympics

A total of 665 athletes representing 30 countries, took part in the 1960 Winter Games. The three largest delegations were the United States, the United Team of Germany and the Soviet Union. Athletes competed in a total of eight disciplines: biathlon, ice hockey, figure skating, speed skating, alpine skiing, cross-country skiing, Nordic combined and ski jumping. These games were the first to include men’s biathlon and women’s speed skating. They were also the first winter games for South Africa who sent 4 competitors. In another first, bobsled was omitted from the 1960 Olympic program due to lack of a funds to build a track.

The below clip taken from Winter Olympics is of the women’s and men’s downhill and slalom events. The course seen in the footage of the women’s downhill race is still used today at Palisades Tahoe, aptly named Women’s Downhill. A total of twenty-two nations took part in the alpine skiing events which included men’s and women’s downhill, slalom and giant slalom.

Clip taken from 16-P-1486, Winter Olympics

Biathlon made its debut at the 1960 Winter Olympics. The event encompassed a 20 kilometer cross-country race with four shooting stations. A total of nine nations sent 30 athletes to compete in the event with Klas Lestander of Sweden winning gold. The clip below shows the skis and rifles used by athletes in the 1960 biathlon event, equiment that is somewhat outdated by today’s standards.

Clip taken from 16-P-1486, Winter Olympics

The 1960 Winter Olympics also marked the first time women were allowed to compete in the Olympic speed skating competition. Several nations had requested the inclusion of women’s speed skating for the 1956 Games but the request was rejected. Women had been competing internationally in speed skating since 1936 and since there was a World Championship for the sport, the International Olympic Committee agreed to allow women’s speed skating. Between the men’s and women’s events, 104 athletes from seventeen nations competed in speed skating with the Soviet Union being awarded the most medals at 12.

Clip taken from 16-P-1486, Winter Olympics

Ice hockey at the 1960 Games involved upset and controversy. The gold medal game between the highly favored Soviet Union and the United States ended in an upset victory for the Americans who had also beaten the favored Canadian team on their road to the gold medal match. This win was the first Olympic gold medal in hockey for the United States.

Clip taken from 16-P-1486, Winter Olympics

Men’s normal hill was the only ski jumping event to be held at the 1960 Winter Olympics. Each contestant took two jumps and were judged for distance and style points. This was the first time athletes used the Dascher technique in their jumps. This technique allows for the athlete to create a more aerodynamic position in the air and became the standard for ski jumping until the development of the V-style.  A total of fifteen nations participated in ski jumping and Helmut Recknagel from the United Team of Germany won gold.

Clip taken from 16-P-1486, Winter Olympics

Despite women being allowed to compete in speed skating at the 1960 Olympics, they were still barred from equal representation in several events. Biathlon, ice hockey, and ski jumping were three men’s-only competitions at the games. Biathlon was the first of these events to allow women competitors, making its Olympic debut at the 1992 Winter Games in Albertville, France. Women’s hockey was added as an Olympic sport for the 1998 Nagano Olympics. And it was not until 2014 that women were allowed to compete in ski jumping at the Sochi Games.

Clip taken from 16-P-1486, Winter Olympics

After 10 days of competitions, a total of 81 medals were awarded to 14 nations at the 1960 Winter Olympics. The Soviet Union won the most medals with 21 total (7 gold, 5 silver, 9 bronze) followed by the United States with 10 (3 gold, 4 silver, 3 bronze) and then tied for third place with 8 medals, the United Team of Germany (4 gold, 3 silver, 1 bronze) and Finland (2 gold, 3 silver, 3 bronze). The United States has hosted the Winter Olympic Games 4 times, but the 1960 Winter Olympics remains the only time they were held in a National Forest.

Winter Olympics can be viewed in its entirety in our online catalog and on the National Archives YouTube Channel. To learn more about special media records related to the Olympic games, please view these blog posts, and additional records in our online catalog: Still Pictures and Motion Pictures and Sound.

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