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Wednesday, 16 January, 2002, 11:04 GMT

Enter the Russians

1956 to 1976

When the Soviet Union decided at last to enter the Winter Olympics, they did so with spectacular results.

In their first Games - in Cortina, Italy, in 1956 - the Soviets won seven of the 24 events.

In the speed skating they won everything bar the 10,000m, and in ice hockey they took gold without losing a single game.

The Soviets topped the medals table with 16.

Four years later on home soil - Squaw Valley, California - the US ice hockey players enjoyed their finest hour.

Energy levels

Having beaten both Canada and the Soviet Union to clinch a tie for the gold medal, America needed to beat Czechoslovakia to be outright champions.

They were trailing 4-3 at the end of the second period.

But Soviet team captain Nikolai Sologubov sportingly visited their locker room to inform them that inhaling concentrated oxygen would help their energy levels.

The Americans scored six goals in the third period to win the gold.

The Soviets could afford to be generous - they led the medal chase with 21.

The 1964 Games at Innsbruck, Austria, belonged to Soviet Lydia Skoblikova.

Dominance

She had been a double-gold medalist at Squaw Valley and now she won all four speed skating events, the first person to claim four gold medals at a single Winter Olympics.

The USSR again took the most medals - 25 this time.

In 1968, the Winter Olympics moved to Grenoble in France and a native athlete stole the show.

Jean-Claude Killy swept the board in the alpine events - a feat only achieved once before by Austrian Toni Sailer in 1956.

The Soviet Union lost their dominance, though, as Norway regained their status as the top medal-winner, taking 14 gongs.

Controversy

Controversy over professional status reared its head for the first time at the 1972 Games in Sapporo, Japan.

The Canadians and Swedes boycotted to protest at what they felt were unfair definitions of professionals.

The invincible Soviets put the troubles behind them to win gold - one of 16 medals which returned their country to the head of the medals table.

In 1976, the Games were due to be held in Denver.

But they were switched to Innsbruck after Colorado pressure groups forced through a law making it illegal to pay for events like the Olympics with state taxes.

Britain's John Curry surprisingly won men's gold in figure skating.

Less of a surprise was the continuing Soviet dominance.

The USSR (27) won the most medals and their speed skater Tatiana Averina claimed four of them.


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