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The 1976 Winter Olympics in Austria

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The 1970s was a very eventful decade for countries all around the world, in regards to both societal and political changes. In 1976, the Vietnam War had just recently concluded, and many American citizens were speaking up about their beliefs, trying to make progress in creating a more equal society and protesting the war. Americans were also beginning to pay more attention to the environmentalist movement, which played a large part in where the Olympics ultimately took place. Because the Olympics took place in the midst of the Cold War, athletes were eager to perform their highest potential to represent their country’s strength and fuel their citizens’ patriotism.

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The 1976 Winter Olympics, taking place in Innsbruck, Austria from February 4 to February 15th, 1976, was almost midway through arguably one of the most eventful decades for the United States and the rest of the world. Many Americans were unhappy with the political events in the early 1970s, and the antiwar movement was born. Americans were not only unhappy with the state of the country in the Vietnam War, but also the state of social and political rights. Although many Americans were against the Vietnam War, Nixon refused to surrender in fear that the United States would be seen as weak. Eventually, by July 1975, Vietnam was unified under communist ruling, and the war was over. This was a very important part of the Cold War, because yet another country fell into communist rule, which certainly did not aid the United States’ paranoia about the Soviet Union. In order not to be seen as weak, it was very important for the United States to perform well in the Olympics, especially the defeat in the Vietnam War.

It was initially decided by the IOC that the twelfth Winter Olympics in 1976 would be held in Denver, Colorado. However, this decision sparked a great debate with the citizens of Denver. Many citizens voted to prohibit their tax funds from being used to pay for the Olympic games, and it was argued that the environmental impact was not worth the honor of holding the competitions. Citizens of America were becoming more involved in environmentalism in the 1970’s, so it was no surprise that there were protests against the Olympic Games being held in Denver. In 1970, the first Earth Day was celebrated, and the National Environmental Policy Act was passed as well. The 1970’s were a major turning point in environmentalism and the issue of pollution. Not only did Denver’s government underestimate the costs to build new sporting facilities, but the citizens were very unhappy with the potential environmental damage it would cause. Thus, Denver made the decision not to hold the Olympic Games, and the IOC granted Innsbruck, Austria the honor of hosting the Games. Innsbruck was a much better option, considering the 1964 Olympic Games were held there, and only minor renovations were required for the already available facilities. The Games were considered a huge success, for the second time.

The country awarded the most medals was the Soviet Union, finishing with twenty-seven medals, thirteen of which were gold. Tatyana Averina-Barabash, representing the Soviet Union, was awarded the most medals out of 1,123 athletes, with two gold and two bronze. Tatyana Averina-Barabash was considered one of the greatest female skaters in the world in the 1970’s – setting eight world records in 1975 and medaling in all four events she participated in during the 1976 Winter Olympic Games. East Germany finished with a total of nineteen medals, seven of which were gold, and the United States was awarded ten medals, three of which were gold. The most publicized athlete was considered to be Rosi Mittermaier, who represented West Germany. At twenty five years old, she was the oldest skier competing and was nicknamed “Omi,” which is the German word for “grandma.” Although she was older, she won two gold medals and one silver and her performance in Innsbruck was considered the greatest by a female skier in the Olympics at the time. She was nearly the first female athlete to win all three Alpine skiing events, but she was narrowly defeated by Kathy Kreiner by twelve hundredths of a second. It was very important for the women competing to be recognized in the media, not only because women were typically portrayed as the stereotypical “girl-next-door,” but also because the 1970’s were a very important time for women’s rights. In 1972, Congress passed the Equal Rights Amendment, which claimed that “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex”. By this amendment passing, lives would change for women all over the country, but these female athletes could empower women all over the world.

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The 1976 Winter Olympics were considered a success, which was not a surprise due to the past success Austria had with hosting the Games. Similar to the 1948 Summer Olympics, the 1976 Winter Olympics proved that no matter the state of the world, it is important for athletes from all over the world to come together and compete in a healthy competitive fashion. Athletes were able to represent the strength of their country, and citizens were able to watch with pride and patriotism.

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