The first Winter Olympics in the U.S. since 1932 was held at an obscure California ski resort near Lake Tahoe that had no bobsled run and in the days leading up to the opening ceremony, no snow. Luckily, an 11th hour drop in temperature changed a drenching rain into a much-needed blizzard and the Games got off to a wintry start.
The most exciting venue, however, was indoors at Blyth Arena where the underdog U.S. hockey team upset the Russians and Canadians to win the gold medal for the first time ever. Led by forwards Billy Cleary and Roger Christian and goaltender Jack McCartan, the Americans beat Canada 2–1, USSR 3–2, and the Czechs 9–4, in their last three games to clinch the title.
Blyth was also where Carol Heiss and David Jenkins won the women's and men's figure skating gold medals. Heiss had won a silver and Jenkins a bronze in 1956. Shortly after the Games, Heiss married Jenkins' older brother Hayes, the men's gold medalist in '56.
Outside, speed skater Yevgeny Grishin of the USSR won at 500 and 1,500 meters for the second Olympics in a row. In fact, Grishin's victory in the 1,500 was his second straight tie at that distance—sharing gold medals with teammate Yuri Mikhailov in 1956 and Norway's Roald Aas in '60. This was also the first year women could compete in speed skating and the Soviets' Lydia Skoblikova won twice, at 1,500 and 3,000 meters. She would go on to win four gold medals at Innsbruck in 1964.
At 35, three-time Olympic cross-country skier Veikko Hakulinen of Finland was the only athlete at Squaw Valley to claim three medals (for a career total of seven). He came from 20 seconds back on the anchor leg to win gold in the 40–kilometer relay.
Sweden's Klas Lestander won the first Olympic biathlon competition. A popular Scandinavian sport that combines cross-country skiing and shooting, Lestander recorded the 15th best time over the 20-kilometer course but was perfect on each of his 20 rifle shots.
Nineteen-year-old Alpine skier Penny Pitou was America's top medalist, placing second in both the downhill and slalom events. She was later married for a few years to 1964 men's downhill champion Egon Zimmermann of Austria.