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IKE'S FOUR OLYMPICS
Over the past few days I've watched footage of First Lady Michele Obama hobnobbing with some of the American athletes at the London Olympics. Her husband, obviously, didn't make it over. But he did make a point of calling and congratulating some of the American team winners.
Eisenhower was president during four different Olympics, Melbourne and Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy in 1956 and Rome and Squaw Valley, California in 1960. These were the days when summer and winter Olympics were still held in the same year. Ike never made it to any despite one taking place in his vice president's home state.
Although he didn't make it to Melbourne for the summer games in 1956, he did name Olympic track star Jesse Owens his Ambassador of Sports and had Owens represent him at the Games. Owens also spent time holding athletic clinics for kids in countries the US considered to be in danger of falling to communism - India, Malaysia, and the Philippines.
The 1956 Summer Olympics actually started in late November during the Australian summer, just two months prior to the beginning of that year's Winter Olympics in Italy. It was the first Olympics to be held outside of Europe and North America. It was an Olympics impacted by Cold War politics. Egypt, Iraq, and Lebanon refused to participate in response to the Suez Crisis - Israel, Great Britain, and France invading Egypt to take back the Suez Canal after it was nationalized by the Egyptians. Netherlands, Spain, and Switzerland withdrew in protest over the Soviet Union brutally crushing the Hungarian Revolution. And then Communist China boycotted when Formosa (Republic of China) was allowed to compete.
The winter games in Italy that year were the first in which the Soviet Union competed. They won more medals than any other nation. It was also the first games to be televised multi-nationally.
Rome hosted the 1960 Summer Olympics. It was the last Games in which South Africa was allowed to participate until 1992, barred by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for its racist policies. It was in Rome that Cassius Clay (Muhammad Ali) won his boxing gold medal and that the barefoot Ethiopian runner, Abebe Bikila, won the marathon.
President Eisenhower signed the resolution calling on the International Olympic Committee to consider Squaw Valley's bid for the Winter Games in 1960. Squaw Valley was selected over Innsbruck and St. Moritz, Switzerland and Chamonix, France. Like the 1956 Summer Games, the Squaw Valley games were a hot bed of political turmoil. The concern among IOC members that the US would not allow communist countries to participate prompted the Committee to threaten revoking its invitation to Squaw Valley to host the Games. The US did welcome communist countries, but then China once again withdrew when their demands that Formosa (Nationalist China) be expelled were not met.
Issues also arose over North Korea and East Germany. The IOC would not recognize North Korea as a separate country. Only South Korean athletes participated after efforts to establish a unified team were rejected. East Germany ended up participating with West Germany as a unified team only after both agreed to be represented by a neutral flag.
Although Ike didn't make it to Squaw Valley either, his vice president did. At the opening ceremonies, Richard Nixon declared the Games open.
Did You Know?
Major Eisenhower and Col. George Patton were reprimanded by their army superiors for advocating revolutionary tank tactics in the early 20s. These were the same tactics employed with such success by the German army in the early years of WWII.