Cortina, a story of sports and Olympics

The 1956 Olympic Games revealed the pearl of the Dolomites to the rest of the world, and the resort continues to be famous to this day

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The story of Cortina is packed with sporting events and achievements. Just think that ice hockey - the most spectacular team winter sport – became a discipline in Italy thanks to the duopoly of Milan and Cortina: the team was established in 1924 under the name Gruppo Sportivo Dolomiti Cortina, which was subsequently amended to Club Sportivo Dolomiti and Hockey Club Cortina from 1929 onwards.

The ‘squirrels' – the team's nickname – have won a whopping sixteen championships in their sport and they fear no rivals owing to the number of presences in the top category. Their triumphs – they were practically unbeatable from the early 60s until the middle of the Seventies – were staged in places such as the Stadio Olimpico, the Olympic stadium built for the 1956 Winter Olympics.

Cortina, a story of sports and Olympics 01
Cortina, a story of sports and Olympics 01

The first live TV broadcasts

The Olympics marked a watershed in the history of Cortina: it could be said that the delightful Cortina d'Ampezzo setting can boast a pre-Olympic Games (tied to being an all-Italian tourist attraction) and a post-Olympic Games when, thanks to the first live TV broadcasts of the Olympic games in the history of the Italian broadcasting corporation RAI, the world discovered the charm of the resort and its state-of-the-art facilities to host a variety of disciplines.

Restyled or well-maintained, they continue to this day to guarantee that Cortina can host top-level competitions: in addition to the 2021 World Cup, the Alpine World Ski Championships, Nordic Skiing circuit events, the Snowboard World Cup and the Curling World Championship. It is easy to think that the 2026 Olympics – organised jointly with Milan - will be a new opportunity 70 years after the first Olympic Games.

Monti and Minuzzo

The first edition of the Games, hosted in Italy, was a far cry from the Olympic giantism which then invaded the event. Just think that it took place over nine days, during which 820 athletes from 32 different countries battled it out in eight disciplines: Alpine Skiing, Cross-Country Skiing, Ice Hockey, Nordic Combined, Figure Skating, Bobsleigh, Speed Skating, and Ski Jumping for a total of 24 gold medals.

Italy successfully claimed a gold only with the Conti-Dalla Costa Bobsleigh pair and two silver medals for Eugenio Monti, the ‘flying red' who led the Italian bobsleigh in both the two-man and the four-man events. It is no coincidence that the slope in Cortina is named after the undisputed champion from Dobbiaco – the finest Italian bobsleigher of all time. Another Italian national, despite not clinching any medals, also made history: the Val d'Aosta-born Giuliana Chenal Minuzzo, after being the first Italian to win a medal in the Winter Olympics (in Oslo, in 1952), was the first woman in the history of the Olympics - including the summer games - to take the athletes' oath.

Cortina, a story of sports and Olympics 02
Cortina, a story of sports and Olympics 02

The unbeatable Toni Sailer

The true king of Cortina 1956 was the Austrian Toni Sailer, who won all three men's Alpine Ski competitions: downhill, giant slalom and special slalom. The Nordic competitors won six out of eight gold medals, in the Cross-Country, Nordic Combined and Ski Jumping disciplines, whereas the specialists from the Soviet Union ruled supreme in the Speed Skating on the rink in Misurina. The athletes bearing the USSR logo also won the eagerly-awaited Ice Hockey tournament, overtaking the Americans and Canadians, and inaugurating the rivalry that still continues today.

The Olympic Stadium is still there, at no. 1 Via Bonacossa street, and it has become even more famous all over the world, since it has been used as a set for a large number of films too. The most famous one is chapter 12 of the 007 saga, i.e. For your eyes only. James Bond – played by Roger Moore – parks his flaming red Lotus Exige Sport 350, comes onto the rink and is attacked by the ‘villains' dressed as hockey players, but obviously he manages to defeat them.

An emblem of the 1956 Olympics, the first live TV broadcasts and the first to witness a woman, Giuliana Minuzzo, take the Olympic oath, the Olympic Ice Stadium in Cortina was a multi-functional facility from the onset: just two years after the Olympics, in fact, it was used for the Harlem Globetrotters, for whom the base was covered over with wooden structures.  It was subsequently the venue for concerts (Glenn Miller Jazz Orchestra and famous Italian singers Zucchero, Venditti, Renzo Arbore and the Italian Orchestra) and, for instance, for the 2010 Curling World Championships.

The ice rink is also used for competitive activities such as figure skating, curling and ice hockey, with the related Championships, as we wait for it to host the Winter Olympics once again in 2026.

All this would be enough to turn these sports facilities into a symbol, but Cortina's Olympic Stadium has also played host to famous film scenes in both national and international productions.

Here, in 1967, Vittorio Gassman filmed some of the scenes of the film The Tiger and The Pussycat, directed by one of the most famous Italian comedy directors, Dino Risi.

About fifteen years later, it became the set for chapter twelve of the 007 films: For your eyes only. The Stadium was filmed both during the day, when agent Ferrari introduces Bond to the Greek Kristatos at the Stadium's open-air bar, and also at night, when 007 leaves Ferrari in his flaming red Lotus Exige Sport 350 parked outside the entrance to the stadium before coming onto the rink and being attacked by evil hockey players, while obviously succeeding in defeating them all.