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


The Squaw Valley Olympics were an Olympics that caught the attention of the world for many reasons. Not only was the Olympics and global sporting event but Walt Disney was now a global celebrity. His involvement brought a visibility and creativity the games that would forever change the way people would see the Olympics. In an earlier article we talked about the condition of Squaw Valley when the games were awarded to them. In the years that followed, the fairytale of Squaw Valley would become the stuff of legend. As the world watched, it was estimated that in the summer of 1959 over 2000 visitors a day would come to see what they were creating. Walt himself was on-site. And although he was involved in other areas, you have to believe that he also enjoyed and perhaps spoke into some of the innovations that were being created…

The very first Olympic Village was created
Olympics had always lodged guests and athletes in local hotels and homes. Squaw Valley was remote, out in the wilderness so they constructed custom-built housing for participants.

Ice that did not melt
Artificial ice was used for the first time in Olympic history

Reusable heat
The waste heat from the refrigeration plant was used to heat buildings, melt snow from roofs, and provide hot water. It was green and energy efficient before anyone knew how to talk about such things.

They didn’t create time but they did find new ways to record time with new timekeeping equipment capable of measuring time to the hundredth of a second

Results and Scores
IBM supplied technicians and computers to tabulate results and output data

Television and Instant Replay
This was the dawning of televised Olympics. Television rights were sold for the Games, with CBS buying exclusive rights for a mere $50,000. The network eventually broadcast thirty-one hours of coverage during the games, and when officials needed to consult tape of an event to determine whether a skier had missed a slalom gate it inspired the concept of instant replay. The world was going to be watching and of course, Walt Disney was doing his part to give them something to see.


Squaw Valley was coming together nicely and Walt turned to Disney legend John Hench to create the look that the world was going to see. It was time to add the Disney touch.

The Disney Touch

Walt knew from history that ancient Greeks would commemorate Olympic champions with marble sculptures. Building on this idea he talked with Hench and they came up with a design for thirty sixteen-foot “snow” statues. These statues would stand along the Avenue of the Athletes and other places throughout Squaw Valley. The statues were both male and female capturing the athleticism of skiers, figure skaters, speed skaters, and  hockey players.

In addition, two much larger 24 foot statues, were created for the Tower of Nations. The Tower, again coming from the skill of Disney artist Hench, stood seventy-nine feet tall and twenty feet wide. Suspended upon the metallic grid were the Olympic rings as well as thirty aluminum crests, each five feet by six, denoting the participant nations.  The Tower was where the opening and closing ceremonies were held, as well as the medal ceremonies for each competition.

This Walt Disney idea was a breakthrough moment in history. Prior to this Olympics the victory ceremonies had not always been something the public could see. Although today we are familiar with the medal ceremonies where athletes receive medal and flags are raised… this moving, inspiring, and memorable moment did not become a part of the pageantry of the games until Walt made it happen.

The Tower of Nations became a centerpiece for the event as thirty aluminum flagpoles, one each for the thirty participating nations stretched out on either side of the tower. In order to offset the cost to build the Squaw Valley facilities sponsorships took on an importance previously unknown in Olympic history. The things being created…from flag poles to statues all had corporate or individual sponsors which again was a new way to fund the cost of the Olympics.

Disney helped fund a “symphonic carillon,” which rang out three times a day and could be heard throughout the valley. A 161-bell carillon and 61-note vibrachord harp was given to the Olympic committee without cost. The speakers carried the sound that became the background notes against which the Olympics played.

Perhaps the most under appreciated but most enduring Disney creation to the Olympics was the torch itself.
John Hench created a new version of what the torch would look like and that look has been borrowed and used ever since.

Walt understood that the Olympics on one level was about athletes from around the world coming together to compete to see who was the best. But in truth, that could have happened in any arena, ski slope or hockey rink. What Walt added to the mix was the element that had always been missing from the games…the interactive and immersive element that allowed the fans to connect in ways they never had before. The central location, the design of a medal ceremony, the pomp and circumstance of music and flags, the Tower of Nations as a symbol or icon for people to connect with, the statues that created the larger than life spectacles that helped enhance the spectator and fan experience and allowed the games to be something that were easier to connect with, to experience, and to enjoy. All of these Disney touches became new and  high impact changes. Then he added a soundtrack to it all and provided music that would ring throughout the valley. The Olympic Games had taken on a new look, a new feel, and really made the shift to becoming an event.

Walt Disney had the knack for knowing his audience. He had come a long way since his first animated short. His career had been breakthrough after breakthrough and at the Olympics he drew on the experience and lessons of his past to create new things, in a new environment, that would take the event and spectacle of the games to another level.

In our lives, each moment, each opportunity, each experience, and each circumstance gives us a chance to use the things we have learned in the past and apply them to the present. When we do, and you do so with a willingness not just to repeat what you have done before… a new dream begins.

Walt Disney knew how to speak a language that would engage and entertain the Olympic audience. It doesn’t matter what area of life you find yourself in, if you have message that you want other people to hear, then you have to find a way to connect to your audience and create for them moments that become memories that last a lifetime. There are no shortcuts to getting this right. You have to practice it day after day after day. And even when you get good at it, you have to draw from your successes and failures and keep finding ways to speak and be heard. It takes effort but it is worth it.

Remember, you really don’t have the right to be heard or expect anyone to listen…until you earn it. And once you earn it, the things you say may never be forgotten.

I believe you have a message to share and a story to be told. You life is a life worth living and a life worth sharing with others. Don’t be afraid to put the work in to sharing it.


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 When Jeff watches the Winter Olympics he always fascinated with curling… and sometimes inspire to go and pick up a broom and sweep the floor. If you have ever watched curling then you can understand why. Take a few minutes and follow Jeff on both Twitter and Facebook. You can get there by visiting www.DixonOnDisney.com


The first article in the series can be found by clicking this link

Article two in the series is here

Research and inspiration for this article comes from The Walt Disney Family Museum and Michael A. Crawford, Disney historian, that share details about the story 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.