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

As you have been reading this series of articles about Walt Disney’s involvement in the Winter Olympics you might be tempted to conclude that because it was Disney, it was easy, and with a little pixie dust it all worked just like it was supposed to. Well not so fast…for Walt the challenge of the Olympics was huge and everything did not go as planned.

Although Walt and John Hench had created the prototype of the Olympic torch we know and remember today, we also know that once the torch is lit it remains lighted throughout the Olympics. Should be an easy task. It has happened at every Olympics. All you need to do is do it the same way it has always been done. Or so, you would think. However Olympic officials in Melbourne, Australia, site of a recent Olympics, were asked to share their knowledge of how this was done. But the Australians, for some reason that is still unclear, refused to give up the answer, so Disney staffers had to concoct their own fuel mixture.

Now the folks at Disney created a way to make it work. But what should have been a simple matter became far more complicated because the Australian group wanted to keep their secret for themselves and didn’t want to share. Sometimes in life we have to overcome the unexpected actions of others. We can sit around and get upset that they won’t do what seems like common sense to us… or we can become proactive and find another solution.

Walt Disney did and his solution turned out to work better. A problem whose answer became an improvement in this case.

Doves flying dramatically through Disney theme parks at the end of show or features is not a new idea. If you have ever been to a theme park you have seen this work and it is spectacular. Squaw Valley was the first Winter Olympics to feature a release of doves as part of the opening ceremony. But someone raised the concern that if the doves stayed too long in the valley they might freeze to death. Now there was a problem…but quickly Disney moved to solve it. The answer was homing pigeons. They would fly out but return home immediately. They could fill the role of “dove” very nicely. Problem quickly solved.

Hold on.. not so fast. The ice rink manager then worried about the birds getting excited while flying over his beautiful ice rink. If they got too nervous they would … well…do what pigeons do and that was unacceptable. So once again, another problem. Not to be derailed by the threat of a pooping pigeon, Walt decided to change the schedule of events so the ceremonial cannons would fire only after the pigeons had been released and were heading for home. They wouldn’t get scared, wouldn’t be nervous and the ice would remain…nice.

The problems were real but both offered the chance for creative solutions. Walt seized the moment and a different bird and a different schedule made all the difference and didn’t hurt the show at all. The willingness to look for answers and the courage to change are lessons that Walt Disney teaches all of us in that moment.

There were more challenges, the snow statues got covered in soot on the trip to Squaw Valley so the white snow covered athlete had to be cleaned to get rid of the stains picked up in transport. Then the high winds toppled one of the statues once it was in place. The solution again was one that involved some hard work but ultimately did the trick. Cleaning the massive statue wasn’t easy but had to be done. The making sure they had a new and better way to secure them was the fix that was needed to save the day.

Walt again reminded us a little bit of cleanup and a little more work to make sure things are stable are sometimes necessary to get the job done.

In each of the situations and each of the scenarios that unfolded the unexpected became merely an opportunity hidden behind each problem. Once you see the potential in a problem then the answers can be found quickly. Walt understood and reminded us to do the same. Do your problems become bigger than your opportunities? Are you focused more on what’s wrong and you miss out on what’s right?

Problems will come, no matter who you are… but how you face them is the difference between making your dreams come true or letting your dream die just short of becoming a reality.

And just so you know…since we have another installment coming in the series on Walt and his Winter Olympics…let me give you a storm warning. Walt and his team would wake up on the day the games were scheduled to begin to a blizzard… what would they do? The answer lies in our next article.





Jeff Dixon is an author, teacher, and transformational architect who lives in the shadow of the Magic Kingdom 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. Discover more at www.DixonOnDisney.com (The Key to the Kingdom and Unlocking the Kingdom are available from booksellers everywhere)

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