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Olympic Torch Returns to Squaw Valley


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Olympic Valley, Calif. (AP by Tom Gardner)–In 1960, New York attorney Alexander Cushing brought the Olympics to an unheralded mountain resort in northern California, beating out more glamorous locales for the honor.

The Olympic flame returns to Squaw Valley USA on Sunday for the first time in 42 years, providing a glimpse into an Olympics with modest beginnings as the torch makes its way to Salt Lake City.

When the U.S. Olympic Committee gave Squaw Valley the nod for the games, then-IOC President Avery Brundage told Cushing: “The USOC obviously has taken leave of their senses.”

That was in January 1955. Five months later, the IOC eliminated Germany, France and finally Austria in favor of a resort with one chairlift, two rope tows and a 50-room lodge, but more than 30 feet of snow a year.

“I think his total expenditures for getting the games were $30,000,” said Cushing’s wife, Nancy Wendt, the president of Squaw Valley Ski Corp. “The town of Truckee came up with some support–they gave him a check for five dollars.”

In comparison, Salt Lake City spent $13 million convincing the International Olympic Committee that it was the best site for this year’s games.

The Winter Olympics were held in Lake Placid, N.Y., in 1932 and returned there in 1980. But until this year, Squaw Valley represented the only city in the Western United States to host the winter games.

The Squaw Valley games marked the first time they were televised. Wendt said CBS paid $50,000, compared with the $545 million NBC is paying in broadcasting rights for the Salt Lake Games.

The 1960 games also saw the construction of the Olympic Village Inn, which housed all 750 athletes from 34 countries under the same roof for the first time.

Cushing, now 88, fell in love with a mountain in Squaw Valley in 1949. Three years and $400,000 later, his mountain was his resort.

“I realized that being a lawyer was all right,” Cushing once said. “But you get into something that you really like and, well, I saw how interesting work could really be.”

But he experienced plenty of setbacks.

Squaw One, then the world’s largest double chairlift, was wiped out by an avalanche the first year it ran. And the second. And the third. The fourth year brought another flood. In the fifth, the lodge burned down.

Amid all the adversity, Cushing managed. Then, in 1954, he learned that nearby Reno, Nev., and far-away Anchorage, Alaska, were bidding for the 1960 Olympics.

He thought his mountain was better.

After winning over the U.S. Olympic Committee, Cushing went into high promotional gear. His pitch, in English, French and Spanish, said: “The Olympics belong to the world, not just one continent.”

At 4,000 acres, Squaw Valley is one-fourth the size of Manhattan, but hillier. Cushing carried his mountain to Paris in 1955 in the form of a 1 1/2-ton sculpture. The model and Cushing’s charisma carried the day in a 32-30 vote for Squaw Valley.

From 1955 to 1960, the nearly pristine area built roads. Motels and restaurants sprang up. And ski lifts, an ice arena, a skating ring and a ski jump emerged. The Reno airport added a terminal.

The only thing the 1960 Winter Olympics lacked was snow.

An hour before the torch was to be lit, Cushing’s luck turned for the better again as a chilly rain turned cold enough for snow and the chance for Andrea Meade Lawrence to ski down with the torch to Kenneth Henry, who lit the Olympic flame.

Lawrence will return on Sunday along with Squaw Valley native Tamara McKinney, who in 1983 became the first American woman skier to win the overall alpine World Cup championship.

Shortly past noon, Ancinas will hand over the torch to Cushing, to return the flame to the Squaw Valley Olympic cauldron for the first time since Feb. 23, 1960.

Copyright © 2000 The Associated Press