At the end of the 19th century, the small Italian town of Cortina d’Ampezzo, located in a valley in the heart of the majestically scenic Dolomites, began to flourish as both a winter and summer sports resort. In particular, it attracted a large number of British tourists keen to fish the River Boite, go on mountain hikes and engage in a spot of skiing. Although winter sport remained a niche industry in Italy in the early part of the 20th century, one man who was eager for it to develop further was Count Alberto Bonacossa, an accomplished mountaineer and skier, and also the Italian figure skating champion between 1914 and 1928, in both the men’s singles and in the pairs, with his wife, Marissa.
Bonacossa was heavily involved in the establishment of the Italian Ski and Ice Hockey Federations at the beginning of the 1920s and played a key role in the creation of the Italian bobsleigh team ahead of the inaugural Olympic Winter Games, held in Chamonix (FRA) in 1924.
Alberto Bonacossa became a member of the International Olympic Committee in 1925, and subsequently pursued the idea of bringing the Winter Games to Cortina d’Ampezzo. After encouraging the local authorities to buy into the plan, he led a delegation to London, putting the case for the Italian bid at the 38th IOC session in June 1939. Up against Oslo (NOR) and Montreal (CAN), Cortina d’Ampezzo was awarded the 1944 Games after a second round of voting, picking up 16 votes to the Norwegians’ 12. Unfortunately, the Second World War caused the cancellation of those Games.
Bonacossa and Cortina d’Ampezzo, boasting a modest population of 6,500 at the time, did not lose heart. In June 1947 they launched a bid for the 1952 Winter Games. In Stockholm, at the 40th session, the IOC and its President, Sigfrid Edström (SWE), gave the Summer Games to Helsinki (FIN) while the Winter Games were awarded to Oslo, which defeated Cortina by 18 votes to 9.
A third bid for the Italian town was promptly devised, with sights now set on the 1956 Winter Games. This time, the Venetian town had the advantage of playing “at home”, as the Official Report of the VII Olympic Winter Games described it, because the IOC, still with Edström at the helm, had chosen to hold its 43rd session in Rome. On 27 April 1949, it was a case of third time lucky as Cortina d’Ampezzo won a comfortable first-round victory with 31 votes, seeing off the candidatures of Montreal (seven votes), Colorado (two) and Lake Placid (one).
Bonacossa, the driving forces behind all three bids finally saw his Olympic dreams realised. Sadly, the pioneering 70-year-old would not have the chance to attend the first ever Games to be held in his homeland, passing away in Milan on 30 January 1953.