The Cortina d’Ampezzo Games marked the Winter Olympic debuts of athletes from the Soviet Union, Bolivia and Iran, while the German Democratic Republic and the Federal Republic of Germany competed together as the “United Team of Germany”, an arrangement they would continue until 1964. A total of 923 athletes (751 men and 132 women) representing 32 countries signed up for the 24 events in eight disciplines: bobsleigh, ice hockey, speed skating, figure skating, Alpine skiing, Nordic skiing, cross-country skiing and ski jumping. In addition, two new cross-country skiing events made their Olympic Winter Games debut: the men’s 30km and the women’s 3x5km relay.
The Games were also the first to be broadcast on television, a medium that was rapidly developing in the 1950s.
The long-awaited Opening Ceremony took place on 26 January 1956. The national delegations, led by their proud flag bearers, paraded around the town before concluding at the Olympic Ice Stadium, where hundreds of doves were released as symbols of peace and friendship. During his speech, IOC President Avery Brundage (USA), who had been elected in 1952, said, “We are happy to be here in this famous and historic country. We compliment our Italian friends on the arrangements they have made to ensure the success of the VII Olympic Winter Games, and we rejoice that the Olympic Movement has passed another milestone on its way toward a happier and healthier world.”
Italian speed skater Guido Caroli then lit the Olympic flame, before Alpine skier Giuliana Chenal-Minuzzo recited the Olympic oath, the first time a woman had performed the task. All that remained was for Italian President Giovanni Gronchi to declare the Games open. The first series of ice hockey games were held later that same day, with the first finals – the women’s giant slalom and the new 30km men’s cross-country skiing – scheduled for the following day.