The 1964 Winter Olympics were held in Innsbruck, Austria. When a lack of snow put the Games at risk, 3,000 Austrian troops accomplished what the weather couldn’t. They hauled 40,000 cubic metres of snow to Olympic ski runs and carted 20,000 bricks of ice from Alpine peaks to line the luge and bobsleigh runs. When rain caused further havoc ten days before the Opening Ceremony, the army packed down the slopes by hand and foot.
For the first time in the Winter Games, the flame was lit in Olympia. Since then, it has always been lit there. Politically, the Games were notable because East and West Germany entered as a combined team. The Soviet Lydia Skoblikova, who had been a star at the 1960 Winter Olympics, won all four women’s speed skating events. She became the first athlete to win four gold medals in one Winter Olympics, taking her career tally to a record six gold medals. The Soviet Union led the medal table with 11 golds.
The Soviet Union’s Klaudia Boyarskikh earned three gold medals in cross-country skiing and, on the men’s side, Eero Mäntyranta of Finland won two. The sport of luge made its Olympic debut and ski jumping gained a second event, the normal hill, in addition to the large hill event.
The unofficial hero of the Games was Italy’s world champion bobsledder, Eugenio Monti. When the British two-man bobsleigh team sheared a bolt on their sled, Monti – who had just come down the run – pulled a bolt out of his own so that his competitors could race. The British shot down the chute to win the gold.
Timing to a hundredth of a second was introduced for all alpine skiing events. The best story from alpine skiing was the success of French sisters Marielle and Christine Goitschel. Marielle won the giant slalom, with her older sister taking silver. However, in the slalom, Christine reversed the result to win the gold, with Marielle the silver medallist. Another French alpine skier competing in Innsbruck was Jean-Claude Killy, who would become one of the Games’ great heroes at Grenoble in four years time.
One of the legends of Nordic skiing, Sweden’s Sixten Jernberg, won the men’s 50km cross-country event to crown his career. He retired with four gold, three silver and two bronze medals from the Games – a record which would remain unmatched for many years.
Australia at these Games
Australia sent a team of six athletes to the 1964 Winter Olympics Games. The team was to endure one of the most tragic moments in Australian Olympic history when Victorian alpine skier Ross Milne, 17, was killed when he careered off the course and crashed into a tree during a downhill practice run.
An inquiry held by the organising committee found that Milne had inexplicably “caught an edge” and subsequently crashed. A Polish-born British luger was also killed in a training accident. Milne’s death ignited disputes about the age of athletes, their skill and inexperience. Australia maintained that Milne was an extremely competent skier, having competed at several Australian championships. He was recognised as an outstanding talent.
Despite the tragedy, the other five athletes, all alpine skiers, did participate in the Games. They were Peter Brockhoff, Simon Brown, Peter Wenzel, Judith Forras and Christine Smith.