Wednesday, February 18, 2009

February 18: Let The Games Begin!

On this day in 1960, the VIII Winter Games (the 1960 Winter Olympics) began in Squaw Valley, California (located near the Lake Tahoe basin). It was the first return of the Olympic Games to North America in 28 years and Disney was in the thick of it.
The prominent 79-foot tall Tower of Nations framing out the entrance to the valley was designed by Disney artist John Hench. It was crowned with 5 Olympic rings, crests of competing nations and 30 flagpoles for flags of participating nations. Each flagpole had a plaque signed by Walt Disney! (After the games, these flagpole were re-located to such places as Walt Disney Elementary in Missouri and the Disney Studio in California.)
Another first for these games was a unique Olympic torch, also designed by John Hench. (In fact all future torches were based on his design!)
After a near snow-less season, a heavy storm moved in and dropped plenty of the white stuff on this day. At the Opening Ceremonies, the storm broke and the skies cleared just as Vice President Nixon declared the Games officially open.
Walt Disney himself was the Head of Pageantry for the 1960 Winter Olympics. He organized 5,000 participants (including 1285 instruments and 2645 voices from nearby California and Nevada school bands) and some 2,000 doves (released during the Opening Ceremony). The musicians Disney had gathered provided accompaniment for alpine ski racer Andrea Meade Lawrence as she skied down to hand the torch to speed skater Kenneth Henry, who in turn lit the Olympic flame.
Walt also orchestrated the closing ceremonies on February 28.
The U.S. won a total of 10 medals that winter: 3 Gold, 4 Silver, and 3 Bronze.

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