The Soviet Union emerged from the shadows of the Cold War in 1952 to make its Olympic debut at the Summer Games in Helsinki. Finishing a close second to the United States in overall medal count (74–71), the Russians served notice that they were an athletic superpower to be reckoned with.
In 1956, the USSR made its first appearance in the Winter Games and not only outmedaled the 32–nation field, but dethroned Canada as hockey champion. Four of the USSR's seven gold medals came in speed skating, where Yevgeny Grishin led the way with gold medals in the 500 and 1,500 meters.
Despite a shortage of snow in northern Italy, the outstanding performance of the VIIth Winter Games belonged to a skier named Sailer. By winning the downhill, slalom and giant slalom, Toni Sailer of Austria became the first skier to sweep all three Alpine events and only the fifth winter athlete to win three gold medals at one Olympics.
Swedish cross-country skier Sixten Jernberg, who would eventually participate in three Winter Games and win a total of nine medals, led all contestants in Cortina with four, including a gold at 50 kilometers.
The women's and men's figure skating titles were won by Americans Tenley Albright and Hayes Jenkins, who were both reigning world champions. Albright had won a silver medal in 1952, while Jenkins had finished fourth.