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Torch is returning to Squaw Valley

Resort was an unlikely site for glory it won in ’60

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OLYMPIC VALLEY, Calif. — The Olympic flame was set to return to Squaw Valley USA today for the first time in 42 years.

It was in 1960 that Alexander Cushing brought the Olympics to an unheralded mountain resort in the United States, beating out Innsbruck, St. Moritz and Garmisch-Partenkirschen for the honor the same way he started his business — short on silver but long on brass.

"I think his total expenditures for getting the Games were $30,000," said his 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 $5."

Salt Lake City spent $13 million convincing the International Olympic Committee that it was the best site for this year's Games.

When the U.S. Olympic Committee gave Squaw Valley the nod for 1960, 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. And Alex Cushing.

The New York attorney fell in love with a mountain in 1946. Three years and $400,000 later, his mountain was his resort.

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

Squaw Valley opened on Thanksgiving Day 1949. Four days later, it was flooded. It reopened a month later for Christmas, which was when Cushing's accountant told him he was broke.

"We'll manage," Cushing responded.

The Sierra still wasn't done with Cushing. Nor was he yielding to it.

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. The fifth, the lodge burned down.

For five years, 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 over Innsbruck.

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.

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 lighted, 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 lighted the Olympic flame.

Along with being only the second Winter Olympics held in the United States, it was the first time they were televised.

"CBS took a flier on it. They paid $50,000. The Games themselves cost $19 million," Wendt said.

NBC is paying $545 million in broadcasting rights for the Salt Lake Games. The General Accounting Office expects the 2002 Olympics to cost $1.9 billion.

Along with the first television cameras, 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.

The Games also were the first in which results were tabulated by computer.

The Soviet Union dominated the medals race with 25, and the United States was second with 10. But at the height of the Cold War, the U.S. hockey team topped the Soviets 3-2, then won the gold by scoring six goals in the last period to beat Czechoslovakia 9-4.

Other U.S. golds went to figure skaters Carol Heiss and David Jenkins. Nineteen-year-old alpine skier Penny Pitou was the top American medalist with two silvers.

Andrea Meade Lawrence, who carried the torch in February 1960, was scheduled to 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.

Other torchbearers include Gladys "Sandy" Poulsen, widow of Squaw Valley co-founder Wayne Poulsen, and Mark Wellman, a paraplegic who has climbed Yosemite's Half Dome and El Capitan. He plans to sit-ski the torch to three-time Olympic skier Osvaldo Ancinas, who also lives at Lake Tahoe.

Shortly past noon, Ancinas is scheduled to hand over the torch to the 88-year-old Cushing, to return the flame to the Squaw Valley Olympic caldron for the first time since Feb. 23, 1960.