( A Walt Disney story of the Winter Olympics – Article Two)


Most people don’t associate the name Walt Disney with the Olympics. Yet in this series of articles, this is the second installment where we discover the often forgotten involvement of Walt in helping to create many of the traditions that now are a part of Olympic events. It all began at Squaw Valley at the Winter Olympics of 1960.

Walt was more than familiar with the skiing world; many don’t realize there was even a Mount Disney in the Sierras named in his honor after he helped the Sugar Bowl resort in 1939. Walt would build a mountain of his own, covered in snow, and ready for adventure when the Matterhorn Bobsleds debuted at Disneyland. In an earlier article we shared the story of Walt agreeing to become Chairman of the Pageantry Committee for the Games. This would mean creating the opening and closing ceremonies, the victory ceremonies for each event, and the Olympic torch relay. To make this happen in Squaw Valley, he would reach into the Disney creative company to build a team that would create Olympic Pageantry unlike anything the world had ever seen before.

Walt Disney knew if he was going to be successful there were so many things that had to happen. One of the most essential ingredients he needed was manpower. He needed not just a handful but a massive number of volunteers and he was aware of the challenge he faced in recruiting, training, and implementing this volunteer force.

Musically they needed musicians and singers. The Disney team developed a strategy that would find them working with music educators in both California and Nevada to recruit help with the ceremonies, the events, carry flags, give directions, and help move people. They created the music they needed for the events and then in a day and age long before internet, downloadable files, and portable electronic devices…were able to put together practice tracks, distribute sheet music, create regions where musicians and singers would practice before they ever all came together in Squaw Valley. The undertaking was a symphony of moving pieces and it was not going to be easy. Not only did the volunteers have to be willing they had to work to get there. They earned their own money to fund their trip to the Olympics. The numbers are staggering…3,680 students—1,322 band members and 2,358 choir members—participated.

Walt also knew the responsibility for raising flags during award ceremonies, crowd control, and information had to be done with a volunteer force that could be counted on and reliable. Walt turned to the Scouts for help here. 125 Explorer Scouts made the event happen and allowed things to flow seamlessly. One of the ways that you know you did it well is if it is easy to miss how it all happens….because it works so well. Walt himself was quoted as saying, “I have always said that the spirit of American youth cannot be daunted, and I think this was dramatically proven by their unselfish and wholehearted effort before and during the VIII Olympic Winter Games.”

But still there were more volunteers that were needed. The Olympic torch relay, it was decided, would carry the torch from the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum—site of the 1932 Olympic Summer Games—to Squaw Valley. This was a distance of over 600 miles. The word went out and help was needed. This time Walt turned to athletes for assistance. The California Interscholastic Federation stepped in along with former Olympic champions and professional athletes. Each runner would carry the torch for a one mile stretch. To get ready to run the distance and hold the torch upright, they trained by running with an eight pound shot put hoisted high.

Creativity, imagination, and dreams can often fail to become reality if you can’t share your vision and recruit and train others to make it happen. The account of the volunteer force that was put together reminds us of how important it is to mix the right amount of work into the big dreams we are chasing to make them come true. For Walt as a leader, this was another opportunity to cast vision, build a team, create a strategy, recruit, cast more vision, train, and then release and manage the teams to be successful. Sometimes this can be messy but there is no shortcut…working with people, positioning them to be successful, and building a relationship with them is something that all good leaders must do.

Walt Disney was not merely a visionary. There are lots of folks who can see what needs to be done or have big ideas. Walt Disney was a transformational leader. He could see what needed to be done, he could explain it others, and then he was willing to roll up his sleeves and work to put the pieces in place to get it done.

Each of us have spheres of influence. Maybe we aren’t  vision casting transformational leaders but we all have relationships, roles, and environments where we influence and lead. Be thankful for those opportunities. See your role or task as important. Whether you are standing at the front of the pack leading a charge or whether you are standing shoulder to shoulder with someone trying to solve a problem or makes something work….always embrace the moments that we get to influence others and remember that great leaders are always willing to serve.

Walt knew that…and in this Olympic tale we see how he had to work with people to be successful. He could do it because he knew they were important, he valued them, and he respected them enough to give them all the resources they needed to be successful and embrace his vision and dream so it became theirs as well. As a result…the Olympics happened and their Olympic dreams came true.

Be a person who leads others to make their dreams come true!

If you missed the first article in this series entitled – A Walt Disney Olympic Fairy Tale click the link here
Jeff Dixon is an author, teacher, and transformational architect who lives in Central Florida. He is the author of a series of mystery thrillers set in and around Walt Disney World that are loaded with Disney history, trivia, little known facts, and the trivia is never trivial. The Key to the Kingdom and Unlocking the Kingdom are available from booksellers everywhere and you can find out more about them here http://www.amazon.com/Jeff-Dixon/e/B00A1DJDNQ/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_1 Jeff is also a huge sports fan and had the pleasure of being a spectator at the Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia which is still one of his all time favorite sports memories.


Research and inspiration for this article comes from The Walt Disney Family Museum and Michael A. Crawford, Disney historian, their record of Walt and his involvement in the Olympic quest on their website. Additional research was found at Progressland USA, Jim Hill Media, and notations in the book, The 1960 Winter Olympics by David C. Antonucc.