The blue-clad avalanche which was Russia seemed hesitant at times, but the over-all Soviet impact at Squaw Valley was irresistible. The U.S.S.R. won five gold medals and shared another in the eight speed skating events alone, almost twice as many as any other nation in the entire Games. Russia won its share of silver medals, too, and picked up a bronze medal in every third event on the program. By the time the VIII Olympic Winter Games were over last Sunday, the unofficial team score was so lop-sidedly in favor of the Soviet Union that hardly anyone even bothered to add up the absurd figures any more.
The story behind Russia's vast success at Squaw Valley was the same as it had been at Cortina: a massive sports program enveloping schools and clubs and labor unions and the military service, state encouragement, frequent outright aid to the specially talented, a fierce desire on the part of the individual to triumph, less for himself or his organization than for Mother Russia. Yet somewhere between Cortina and Squaw Valley, the Russians have changed. They have become more human. In the Olympic Village, where the athletes of 30 nations lived and ate and danced and sang and played, they were as much a part of things as anyone else. Suddenly, at Squaw Valley, the Russians ceased to be muscles without minds or personalities and became individuals. Some of them were very impressive individuals, indeed.
"Do I like Americans?" said Evgeny Grishin punctiliously. "Of course. They are just like us. Bill Disney is a good friend of mine. He is a wonderful skater with very fine technique. I like Carol Heiss very much. As a sportswoman, I am in love with her. As a girl? Of course, I am in love with her. Isn't everyone?"
Grishin, who won the 500-meter race, equaling his own world and Olympic record, and tied Norway's Roald Aas for the 1,500-meter medal, is one of Russia's finest athletes. He got two gold medals at Cortina and, before that, was the outstanding cyclist in the Soviet Union. At Helsinki as a cyclist in 1952, he became ill and could not compete, but he still thinks he was a better cyclist than a skater. "I was in training 12 months a year," he explains, "six months on bicycle and six months on skates. But my doctor suggested that for my heart's sake I should give one of them up. For some reason, I decided that I would keep up with my skating."
Grishin is also one of the world's most charming athletes, a tall, trim, intelligent man approaching his 29th birthday, with deep-set brown eyes, a big nose and a frequent, flashing grin. Inside the grin there are two bright gold teeth. He speaks only Russian but he speaks that articulately, very fast. He is a senior lieutenant in the Red army, a military man since 1950, although most of his work is concerned with physical education. Today Grishin is stationed in Moscow, where he lives in an apartment with his wife. "We have no children yet," he says. "We have been married only a year."
Evgeny was born and raised in Tula, a city of 300,000 about 100 miles from Moscow, and he is very proud of the fact that Tula was also the home of Leo Tolstoy. "They have a big museum for Tolstoy there," says Grishin. "I don't think they will ever build a museum for me." Still, he is a well-known man. "When I am at home," he says, "many people know me and I get a lot of telephone calls, but when I am in other parts of the country, hardly anyone recognizes me. I don't think being a famous athlete means as much in Russia as it does in the U.S."
In Tula, when he was very young, Grishin learned to skate fast by hitching rides on cars traveling along the ice-covered streets. "At the place where we stood in hiding," he says, "the cars would pass at about 40 kilometers an hour, so we had to skate very fast in order to catch them. Then we would hold on until we got tired or the police would see us. Usually they sent us home, but sometimes we would sneak back to catch more cars."
Today, Grishin would rather drive cars than chase them. "Automobiles," he says, "are my sickness. I am crazy about them. I own a Volga, it cost me 30,000 rubles [$7,500 at current official rate] a few years ago, although one would cost 40,000 rubles now. Do you know what I would like to do? I would like to race a Ford. In my dreams I race Fords, but they always neat me. I do not have enough cylinders."
Now that Evgeny has won four gold medals in two Olympics, does he plan to give up competitive skating? "Why no," he says, "why should I? It is fun. I will look forward to seeing you at Innsbruck in 1964."
Lydia Skoblikova is not quite 22, much younger than Grishin, and she was not even at Cortina four years ago; but at Squaw Valley she won two gold medals in speed skating, too, setting a world record in the 1,500-meter race, winning the 3,000 and coming close to winning a third medal in the 1,000, where she finished fourth. "Until Penny Pitou fell in the slalom race," she said in Russian, "I was afraid some other girl might win more medals than me. I am sorry that Penny fell, of course. She must be a very splendid sportswoman and I would like very much to have the chance to know her."
Lydia is quite a bit like Penny, she has the same deep dimples in her cheeks, has blue eyes and blonde hair—which, however, is much shorter and curlier than Penny's. In her tight racing costume, she appears very trim. In it, she also skates very fast, faster than any other woman in the world. This does not, she insists, make her any less a woman.
"Sportswomen are very highly thought of in Russia," she says. "Many of our team are married, some of their husbands are competing here, too. If I should get married someday, I would expect to keep on racing as long as I can."
Who takes care of the babies? "In Russia, all babies have grandmothers," she explains.
Lydia began racing in Chelyabinsk, her home in the Urals, about five years ago. "In the winter," she says, "every road, every park is covered with water to make a skating rink, so everyone skates. There is a great amount of competition. But I was gifted from the first." A student at a teachers' college in Chelyabinsk, she studies anatomy and physiology, and makes good grades. She finds time, though, to train four months a year. Then she works out four times a week, three hours a day. The rest of the year she swims and runs on a labor union track team.
Once off speed skates, the U.S.S.R. ceased to dominate. Finland and Norway staged a remarkable race in the men's 40-kilometer relay, the famous old Finn, Veikko Hakulinen, who had won a gold medal at Oslo in '52 and another at Cortina in '56, lunging ahead of the Norwegian, Haakon Brusveen, winner of a gold medal in the 15-kilometer race just two days before, by the length of a ski right at the finish. Carol Heiss, with her beauty and brilliance, made a runaway of the ladies' figure skating contest for one U.S. gold medal (see page 20), and David Jenkins, an even more accomplished master of the whirling free-skating style, came from behind to win another.
The Russians, of course, had no chance in the Alpine events. As Lydia Skoblikova said, "Where there are people in Russia, there are no mountains, where there are mountains, there are no people." In fact, no one was able to establish any kind of dominance down the mountains at Squaw Valley. Among the women, two more surprise winners emerged to join Germany's Heidi Biebl, who won the downhill during the first week. Yvonne Ruegg, a chunky little lass from Chur, who barely made the Swiss team, came racing down Papoose Peak one-tenth of a second ahead of Penny Pitou to win the giant slalom. "I like that course so much," she said, "I would like to go right back up and run it again." For Penny, who won her second silver medal, it was a terrific disappointment to have missed the gold. "I feel awful," she said. "I have a bad cold. I'm going home and go to bed." Giuliana Minuzzo-Chenal of Italy was third, two-tenths of a second ahead of America's Betsy Snite. The third big U.S. threat, Linda Meyers, hit a gate high up on the course, took a bad fall, and broke her right collarbone.
The slalom was won by Canada's Anne Heggtveit with Betsy Snite second and Germany's Barbi Henneberger third. Heggtveit, a slender blonde from Ottawa, has been racing internationally for seven years, although she is only 21 now. Last year she was a big winner in Europe, combined champion of the famed Kandahar, but until last Friday she had done nothing of importance this year. "I was late getting to my peak," she explained, with her nice smile. "I was aiming at the Olympics."
Heggtveit really won the race on her first run down the hill. Her time, in a beautifully smooth demonstration, was 1.5 seconds ahead of Austria's Marianne Jahn, more than three seconds ahead of anyone else. Her second run was good, too, beaten only by a terrific burst of speed put on by Snite, a burst that won Betsy the silver medal when Jahn fell. Penny, tied for ninth after the first run, tried to make up the lost time, skied too fast through the tricky gates, and she, too, fell. For some, the American performance in the three women's events had been a disappointment. On the other hand, Pitou and Snite won three medals between them, all silver, while of the other countries only Germany had as many as two, a gold and a bronze.
While the U.S. was sweating out its inspired hockey team, its girl skiers, its David Jenkins and Carol Heiss, in many ways nothing in the entire 10 days of the Games could touch the performance of a ruddy, horse-faced farmer from Kitzb√ºhel named Ernst Hinterseer, who won the men's slalom with a near-miraculous run down the lower slopes of the mountain called KT-22. Hinterseer saved the famed Austrian Alpine team from humiliation. Quite unintentionally, he may also have saved Austria from forgetting that Alpine skiing, while admittedly a way of life in that mountainous land, is, like everything else on the Olympic program, still a sport, too.
In the first two events of the men's Alpine competition, Austria was barely noticed. Neither Karl Schranz, the best skier in the world in 1959 and Austria's successor to the legendary Toni Sailer, nor Anderl Molterer, a bronze and silver medalist at Cortina, could prevent Switzerland's dashing Roger Staub from winning the giant slalom, or the attractive Frenchman, Jean Vuarnet, from running off with the downhill. Only Pepi Stiegler and Hinterseer, second and third in the giant slalom, could crack the surprising French-German-Swiss lock on the events Austria was supposed to dominate. What, everyone began to ask, was wrong with Austria? Was this the end of a dynasty?
PRIMA DONNAS IN REVOLT
Then, slowly the story began to leak out. Schranz and Molterer, the temperamental stars of the team, had been playing around, loafing all summer and fall, while the Swiss and Germans and French trained like madmen. At Squaw Valley, Schranz and Molterer, the prima donnas, were in near revolt against Othmar Schneider, the team coach, himself a gold medalist for Austria at Oslo. It was Schneider, they said, who picked the wrong wax for the downhill race. What they did not say was that the Swiss, on reaching the top of the course and getting a good look at the snow, were ingenious enough to scrape the old, wrong wax off (heir skis before starting down. And, finally, the entire dissension-ridden affair was aggravated by a weird combination of interresort rivalry and Tyrolean payola. In Alpine Europe the top local skier is somewhat in the position of an American club's golf pro. The winter tourist business is a big thing, and the Austrian town which can boast an Olympic champion can expect thousands of dollars in added revenue as a result. All Austrian racers, needless to say, do not come from the same town. Nor do they all race on the same skis. Molterer and Schranz, openly using and endorsing the product of one of the two great Austrian ski-making firms, were trying to hold down some other members of the team, who just as openly were using and endorsing skis made by the other firm.
"The real trouble with the Austrians in the downhill race was not the wax," said Sepp Ruschp of Stowe, once a well-known Austrian skier and now director of New England's biggest ski resort. "Those boys started down the course with a K√§stle ski on one foot and a Kneissl ski on the other, and about halfway down the two feet started fighting."
But all this came to an end before the slalom. Dr. Otto Lorenz, president of the Austrian Ski Association and head man of the team at Squaw Valley, quietly relieved Schneider of his job. A little less quietly he pulled Schranz and Molterer out of the race, replacing them with Ernst Oberaigner and Hinterseer.
Hinterseer made Dr. Lorenz look good. At the end of the first slalom run he was in fifth place, almost two seconds behind Germany's 18-year-old Willy Bogner. But Bogner, with the gold medal practically in his pocket, fell halfway down the second twisting run, got up, fell again hard almost at the bottom. This time it did him no good to get up. Hinterseer grabbed his opportunity. Down the course he came, quick, all out, skiing desperately but with the tiny shade of caution which more than six years of topflight international racing had bred into his muscles and mind and feet. When he flashed across the finish line, the big clock read 58.2 seconds for his run, the crowd roared and clapped, and Ernst Hinterseer, who had been a very good skier for many years but never a great one, looked back over his shoulder, saw the clock and grinned heartily.
Only four racers could get under a minute for that tough second run, and three of these were Austrians: Hinterseer, Hias Leitner, who won the silver medal, and Pepi Stiegler, who finished an over-all fifth. Austria's skiing prestige had been suddenly and quite dramatically restored.
From that first magic moment when the blizzard stopped on opening day to let the athletes march through sunbeams into the arena, these had been good Olympics. The Sierra weather was lovely. The crowds, which reached almost 50,000 on weekends and held up surprisingly well at other times, were far greater than at Cortina or St. Moritz. The events ran off on time, over splendid courses, and life in the Village was a great deal of fun for the contestants. Best of all, the competition was always intense; naturally, only the athletes and their performances can make any Games an ultimate success. No one who was there will ever forget Sixten Jernberg or Roger Staub, Carol Heiss or Jean Vuarnet, Lydia Skoblikova or David Jenkins, that fighting U.S. hockey team or Evgeny Grishin or Ernst Hinterseer or Penny Pitou. Maybe the VIII Olympic Winter Games in Squaw Valley were better than any which had come before.
The Frenchman and His Egg 18
The Queen and the Professor 20
Our Never-Say-Die Hockeymen 22
'L'OEUF ET MOI'
When France's Jean Vuarnet flashed across the finish line at the bottom of Squaw Peak to win the men's downhill, the word was soon out: Vuarnet had a secret weapon, a new metal ski. But he had another spécialité, less obvious but not less important, which helped him get his gold medal. It was a streamlined crouch which Jean calls his profile d'un oeuf (egg position), because of the shape his upper body assumes as he hunkers down over his skis. Vuarnet's crouch, good in any downhill race, was perfect for the Squaw Valley course, which has a long, flat run-out near the bottom where the other racers had trouble maintaining their speed and where Vuarnet saved the .6 second that gave him the victory: "To go fast on the hill is nothing. You make your time on the flat; and there my speed position was best."
Common mistakes by other racers are imitated above by Vuarnet. Skier at left has head in good position; but stiff knees force his rear end too high. Skier at right raises his head too far, so that helmet pokes up above perfect circle, thus increasing air resistance. Long-legged racers have most trouble curling into the correct position, Vuarnet explains. "But it is really easy for me. I am quite short in the legs and longer above the waist."
American mistake is holding feet too close together. This cuts down on speed by tipping skis onto outside edges, also tends to cramp thighs so skier has less spring going over bumps.
Head-On view shows Vuarnet's head, shoulders, arms, hands curled into tight circle. "Legs are spread for comfort and to let the air through. The skis must lie flat upon the snow, both for speed and for stability."
Egg position puts upper part of the body in shape of streamlined shell to lessen wind resistance during 75-mph plunge down mountain. "For this position," says Vuarnet, "the back must be parallel with the skis, the head tucked well down on the chest, the hands held high and in front of the chin. Do not lower the hands, or they will scoop air over the forearms and into the chest."
Crucial moment in downhill came where course crossed two large bumps called Double Trouble, then plunged down steep pitch beyond. Here, many racers straightened up or tried to jump over the bumps. "But," said Vuarnet, "I calculated that my speed would carry me over both bumps without my having to move a muscle." Vuarnet was right. Holding his speed position, he shot over the bumps, leaning forward slightly as he landed to compensate for the steep pitch beyond.