The photo of the shirtless duce on a sled, defying the low temperatures, is world famous. It dates from 1937 and therefore cannot be linked to the Cortina d’Ampezzo World Ski Championships of 1932, distant ancestors of this 2021 edition. But it appears in all the local history books of Cortina, alongside the many clichés of the dignitaries of the dictatorship who had made the resort of the Dolomites their headquarters for the winter holidays.
Hitler had the Bavarian Garmisch-Partenkirchen where the Olympic Winter Games of 1936 were organized. Mussolini had Cortina, bulwark against his bulky neighbor who was not yet an ally at the time of the world championships of 1932.
Cortina never spoke German
This northern part of the Veneto, neighboring Austria (the Austrian border is 30 km from Cortina) had been an integral part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until 1918. But unlike the rest of Upper Trentino Adige, Cortina d’Ampezzo has never been a German speaker. The local dialect and Italian have always been spoken there. Ironically, it was German-speaking Paula Wiesinger, originally from Italian South Tyrol, who brought the duce the satisfaction of hearing the Italian anthem at the end of a 1932 Worlds race.
Two years before Squadra Azzura’s 1934 FIFA World Cup triumph at home, Cortina had played the game of nationalist sport to the max. A job resumed nine years later in 1941 for official Cortina Worlds, organized by the Axis countries in the midst of the world war and erased from the charts. “Sport played an essential role in the regime’s propaganda, which wanted to build new men and women. The regime put great financial and logistical resources at the service of winter sports ”, Italian historian Gherardo Bonini recently explained to AFP.
The Return to Democracy Games
Twenty-two years later, all of Italy mobilized for the Winter Olympics in Cortina-1956, in a political and diplomatic context reversed. “Significantly, Cortina, an instrument of sports propaganda of fascism, will become, with the 1956 Olympic Games, the sports symbol of the redemption of Italy which had now embraced democratic and republican values”, writes Nicola Sbetti, sports historian at the University of Bologna.
Master builders from all over Italy flocked to restore the ancient fascist pearl to a democratic shine. Even today, we can discover some vestiges of these Olympics, in particular five rings still hanging on a viaduct spanning part of the city. But you have to go deep into the woods to find the most important witness to the 1956 Olympic Games.
It is an ancient bobsleigh track, unused since 2008, and which constitutes the main investment for the future Olympic Games of 2026. Cortina will indeed host for the second time the party of the rings, in collaboration with Milan and of other sites like the Bormio station. A tripartite Milan-Turin-Cortina candidacy was raised for a time, but Turin withdrew its stake in the face of opposition from its population, just as Rome had done for the Summer Games. But in the resort of the Dolomites, which inherited women’s skiing and therefore bobsleigh, luge and skeleton, the subject of a possible withdrawal was never considered. Olympic one day, Olympic always.