Hail to the chiefs

Two future presidents visited Squaw Valley

Vice President Richard Nixon’s role at the Squaw Valley Olympics is well-known. As the highest-ranking U.S. official present, he opened the games with 15 words: “I now declare open the Olympic games of Squaw Valley celebrating the eighth winter Olympics.”

An Associated Press report of his remarks described the games as “problem-plagued” and noted that even Nixon had difficulty getting to them. (The Nevada portion of the route from Reno to Truckee was still on the old Highway 40.)

After the games were over, Nixon sent a wire to CBS, a network he would demonize when he finally became president: “I have seen many sporting events on television but I doubt if any production crew ever did a better job than the CBS group who covered the hockey match between the United States and the U.S.S.R. The cameraman himself must have been a hockey player to have been able to follow the puck as he did.”

Less well-known is the fact that Nixon’s 1960 opponent, Sen. John Kennedy of Massachusetts, also visited Squaw Valley. On Jan. 31, 1960, Kennedy flew into Reno for a speech to a session of the Nevada Legislature the next day. When he arrived, accompanied by his press aide Pierre Salinger, JFK asked for a car, promised to show up for the speech, and took off at the wheel alone for Squaw Valley to wander about seeing the Olympic preparations, an indication of how security concerns have changed. Workers were feverishly putting finished touches on the site. It was two weeks before the start of the Olympics.

Kennedy did appear on time for the speech in Carson City. There is no record of what he thought of the olympic site.

U.S. Sen. John Kennedy of Massachusetts greets Willy Schaeffler, director of ski events at the 1960 Squaw Valley olympics, and Schaeffler’s son Jimmy.