The Winter Olympic Games were hosted in the U.S. for the second time in 1960. When the Games were first held in the U.S. in 1932, the American team won a leading six golds and 12 total medals in Lake Placid, New York.
The venue selected this time was an underdeveloped winter sports recreation area in Squaw Valley, California. The Squaw Valley Games, besides providing a chance for significant infrastructure improvements in that area of the state, also generated a lot of attention as the first opportunity for live television coverage of the Winter Olympics.
The Soviet Union dominated the medal standings, leading the way with seven golds and 21 overall medals. Germany placed second in the medal race, with the U.S. coming in third place by winning four golds among its total of 10 medals.
Although the Soviet Union easily outpaced the U.S. in the medal race, the Americans got a very satisfying victory over the favored Soviets in men’s ice hockey on the way to the team gold.
The list below includes brief information on the ten athletes that I consider to be the top medalists at the Squaw Valley Games:
Yevgeny Grishin: Grishin was a top speed skater for the Soviet Union for a decade from the mid-1950s. After taking gold in the 500 and 1500 meters at the 1956 Winter Games, Grishin repeated the feat in Squaw Valley.
Helga Haase: Haase took advantage of women’s speed skating being on the Olympic schedule for the first time as an official medal sport by winning a pair of podium finishes. She took the gold in the 500 meters, and added the silver in the 1000-meter race.
Veikko Hakulinen: Hakulinen dominated men’s cross-country skiing in the 1950s and early 1960s. His Olympic medal tally included three golds, three silvers, and a bronze at the three Winter Games contested between 1952-1960. At the Squaw Valley Games, the 35-year-old from Finland took gold in the 30 kilometers, earned the silver in the 50-kilometer event, and finished in the bronze-medal position in the 15-kilometer race.
Carol Heiss: Heiss was America’s darling in 1960 as she thrilled the home crowd with a near-flawless exhibition of figure skating on her way to the gold medal. Heiss, who had previously won silver in the event at the 1956 Winter Games, parlayed her success in Squaw Valley into a short stint in Hollywood, and later as a well-respected coach.
David Jenkins: Jenkins was already a three-time world champion in figure skating for the U.S. as the Squaw Valley Games began. He skated to a convincing victory there, giving the American team Olympic titles in both the men’s and ladies’ figure skating events.
Sixten Jernberg: Jernberg ranks as one of the greatest performers ever in cross-country skiing. A nine-time Olympic medalist from the three Winter Games conducted from 1956-1964, the Swede took one of his four career golds in Squaw Valley in the 30-kilometer race, and added the silver at the 15-kilometer distance.
Knut Johannesen: A standout in speed skating for Norway, Johannesen, who specialized in the long-distance events, earned two Olympic medals in 1960. He took gold in the grueling 10,000 meters, and was awarded the silver for a second-place finish in the 5000 meters.
Viktor Kosichkin: Another of the many elite athletes for the Soviet Union at the Squaw Valley Games, Kosichkin covered the 5000 meters in the fastest time for the gold, while pushing Knut Johannesen down to the silver medal. Johannesen, however, turned the tables on Kosichkin in the 10,000 meters by skating to victory in a world-record time, relegating the Soviet to the silver.
Penny Pitou: Pitou won a pair of medals for the U.S. in 1960 in alpine skiing. She earned silver in both the Downhill and Giant slalom, missing out on gold in the latter event by one-tenth of a second.
Lidiya Skoblikova: The most accomplished women’s speed skater of not only the 1960s, but perhaps all-time in the half-century women have been competing in the Olympic sport, Skoblikova skated to six Olympic golds in her illustrious career, and in Squaw Valley she was victorious in both the 1500 and 3000-meter races.
Patrick Hattman covered the London Games for the Yahoo! Contributor Network. He is already looking forward to the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.