Reno hotels were sold out, as were most of the motels in the Reno/Sparks/ Carson/Lake Tahoe areas and a great swarm of worldwide press descended upon us — most of them arriving at Reno-Tahoe International Airport. The “international” status came through the good efforts of the U.S. Senator from Nevada, Howard Cannon. It was necessary for the airport to upgrade its status in order for U.S. Customs checkpoints to be installed for the processing of foreign visitors.
The great highlight of those Olympics was the fact that a youthful U.S. hockey team upset the Russian pro-style team in the semifinals and then went on to win the gold. Much has been made of the similar victory the American team achieved over the Russians 20 years later at the games in Lake Placid, New York. Several major motion pictures have been made about the 1980 victory and the members of that team deserved all the recognition they received. However, the explosion of noise that erupted in the hockey arena at Squaw Valley in 1960 was the highest decibel level my ears have ever experienced. Following the victory, Reno hotelier Charles Mapes and I wound our way through a back passageway to the Russian team’s dressing room. We were not too well received until we informed the team interpreter that we were passing out handsome, leather-encased binoculars to the players. They gathered around, most of them easily in their late 20s or early 30s with missing front teeth. The binoculars were a standard giveaway from Mapes to important attendees at the games, since his hotel was the site of the official Olympic press club.
In addition to the daily excitement at Squaw, the nightlife in Reno was never at a faster or more exciting pace as big-time entertaiment in the form of Sammy Davis, Jr., Debbie Reynolds and Mickey Rooney, who were a few of the notables to grace the showroom stages. Top-ranking movie stars like Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh were only a couple of the many luminaries who arrived to watch the games. The prince of Sweden brought an entire retinue with him and actually interfaced with the large Russian press corps at the press club.
Next year will mark the 50th anniversary of the Squaw Valley Olympics and a number of outstanding events have already been put in motion to memorialize the ’60 games.
There were a vast number of Nevadans involved in all sorts of phases of the ’60 games. Recently, in conversation with good friend Chelton Leonard, he produced a handout that listed some of the more prominent names. It noted, “Many skiers from the Sierra Nevada Mountains, Lake Tahoe and Nevada were instrumental in assisting with the evolution and development of skiing in the United States. During the growth years of the sport, many of the essential elements of both recreational and competitive skiing can be attributed to contributions by students, coaches and officials of the University of Nevada (Reno). Following is a listing of many of the individuals who played major roles in helping this growth, which ultimately led to the U.S. participation in the Winter Olympic Games.”
Among them was Chelton himself. His role in the ’60 Olympics consisted of a two-year stint from 1958-60 as the assistant director sports technical of the Organizing Committee VIII Olympic Games. During the event he served on the Alpine competition jury and as chief gatekeeper and was appointed as advisor to Nevada Gov. Grant Sawyer and to the Nevada Winter Olympic Commission for the three years preceding the games. Following the Squaw event, he went on to do two years with the U.S. Olympic Committee (National Ski Association of America). While all this was going on he was also the men’s ski coach at UNR for 10 years. Another honor he achieved was being named the secretary for the NCAA Ski Rules Committee from 1956-60. Prior to all these achievements he had been a top skier at UNR and in the military was assigned to elite ski divisions.
Another Nevada alumna, Dodie Post Gann, was a famous figure at the Olympics, skiing the lighted torch down the hill for the opening ceremony. Prior to that she was the captain of the 1948 U.S. women’s Olympic ski team, a member of the U.S. women’s national ski team in 1950 and manager of the U.S. women’s Olympic ski team in 1956. She was inducted into the UNR Athletic Hall of Fame in 1973 and inducted into the U.S. National Ski Hall of Fame in Ishpeming, Mich. in 2001.
Other prominent local skiers will appear in future columns.
Harry Spencer is a freelance writer in Reno. His column about the past and present of northern Nevada appears weekly in the Tribune.
Editor’s note: Harry Spencer’s column is sometimes a mix of reporting and opinion. Opinions expressed in his column are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Tribune.