The 1956 Olympics in Cortina

Cortina is one of the few resorts in the Alps having hosted the most important event in winter sports: the Winter Olympics. The town should have hosted them in 1944, but as the Second World War broke out, the event was cancelled. After the war, the dream did not fade; indeed, it started to be seen also as a chance to revive Cortina and the Italian Alps after the hardship of the 1940s. Beating the competition of Montreal, Colorado Springs and Lake Placid, Cortina reached its goal.

A milestone in the history of Cortina, the 1956 Winter Olympics were definitely a turning point for the Olympics themselves. They were not only the first to be held in Italy, but also the first to be broadcast on TV internationally and to rely heavily on private sponsorship.
The organisation of the Games was difficult and required a huge effort by the Organising Committee: Cortina was a village, well equipped for the time but not ready to host such a big event. Great efforts were made to modernise the town: new roads, new sporting facilities, new telephone and electricity lines, new hotels and lifts were built in a few years. The government only financed the main infrastructure investment, for which reason the organisers had to rely on the financial and logistic support of private companies. Cortina buzzed with activity to be prepared, and when 1956 finally arrived, it was a refurbished little town, with better infrastructure and tourism facilities. The organisers even had to face a problem that at the time was much more difficult to cope with than it is today: that winter, snowfall was particularly scarce, not enough to hold the ski races. The grave situation was solved by the intervention of the Italian Army, which transported snow to Cortina from other regions of the Alps.

Cortina’s Winter Olympics turned out to be a great success. The event was broadcast on the TV channels of several European and American countries, giving it an unprecedented impact and showing the beauty of Cortina to the world around. It was a success also from the standpoint of international relations: a total of thirty-two nations from the five continents took part, including for the first time the Soviet Union and Iran. Germany, at the time divided into East and West, participated with a united team composed of athletes from the two sides of the border.

The Soviet Union won the most medals, but the athlete who became a real legend was the Austrian Toni Sailer, who won the gold medal in all three Alpine skiing competitions. His incredible victories still make him one of the great names indissolubly intertwined with the history of Cortina, along with the greatest athletes of the Ladies’ World Cup.

More than 60 years later, the legacy of the Olympics is still here, and memories are not fading. The event made Cortina one of the best-known and important mountain destinations in the world, and represents the jewel of a crown of a series of sporting events that still define Cortina as a town and tourism destination.

Credits:

Foto Storiche Video Archivio Storico Giuseppe Ghedina 1898-1986_Manaz Productions