A new dimension for the Olympic Winter Games

Picture by IOC

Innsbruck 1964 saw the scale of the Winter Games increase substantially, with the number of events on the programme rising from 27 at Squaw Valley four years earlier to 34, thanks to the return of bobsleigh, the inclusion of three luge competitions (the men’s and women’s singles and the men’s doubles) and the addition of the large hill individual ski jumping event and the women’s 5km cross-country skiing race. Also making its return as a demonstration sport was the less well known sport of Eisstock, a cousin to curling.

The number of participating nations also rose significantly, to 36, with Mongolia, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, and India all making their Winter Games debuts, and Great Britain returning to the fold along with Belgium, Greece, Iran, Romania and Yugoslavia. A total of 1,091 athletes (892 men and 199 women) competed in the 10 sports on the programme, 426 more than had graced Squaw Valley 1960.

Innsbruck 1964 also saw the Winter Games reach out to an even wider television audience, with millions of viewers around the globe tuning in to watch the competitions, which were relayed live, with extensive coverage being provided by the newly created Eurovision broadcasting system in Europe and the ABC network in the USA.

In the lead-up to the 1964 Winter Games the organisers were faced with a major problem in the shape of the warm southerly wind known as the foehn, which had been blowing in the Tyrol since the start of the year, resulting in a largely snowless winter, a very rare occurrence for this part of the world. In response, Friedl Wolfgang, the head of the organising committee, recruited the services of the Austrian Army, with thousands of soldiers being called into action to resolve the crisis by transporting 20,000 blocks of ice and 40,000 cubic metres of snow from the Brenner Pass and depositing their harvest at the various sites, with a further 20,000 cubic metres of snow also being stockpiled in case of need.

Attracting a crowd of over 50,000 spectators, the Opening Ceremony took place on 29 January 1964 at the foot of the new ski jumping hill on the Bergisel. For the first time in the history of the Winter Games, the Olympic flame had been lit at the Temple of Hera in Olympia. The person charged with the task of lighting the Olympic cauldron with it was Austrian Alpine skier Josef Rieder, while his compatriot Aste took the Olympic oath on behalf of all the athletes before Adolf Schärf, the President of the Republic of Austria, declared the IX Olympic Winter Games open.