By Eddy Ancinas
On Feb. 18, 1960, in a blinding snowstorm, I followed a line of cars creeping slowly toward Squaw Valley’s Blyth Arena for the opening ceremonies of the VIII Olympic Winter Games. Standing just a few rows above U.S. Vice-President Richard Nixon, I watched the athletes file in proudly waving their respective countries’ flags to thunderous applause. As first Greece then Argentina arrived, I snapped photos of every team. Little did I know I was photographing my future husband.
I was one of six young women who volunteered as guides/hostesses for the International Olympic Committee. After a heady round of social functions in San Francisco, we headed to the mountains, joining the IOC members every day for lunch at the Squaw Valley Inn (now PlumpJack Inn), which served to house the athletes during the 1960 Olympic Games. All we had to do was be helpful and speak a foreign language (although complete fluency was not required). With passes to all the events on the mountains and at the ice arena, we could go everywhere in the valley — except for the closely guarded athletes’ village, where they gathered each evening for dinner followed by a show, emceed by radio and television pioneer Art Linkletter.
Nevertheless, a well-worn path through the woods and along Squaw Creek led to the entrance of the dining hall, where Marcia Gardiner, a friend and fellow guide, and I managed to convince the guards at the entrance that we were translators for the Spanish team.
Seated amidst a lively audience of skiers, skaters, and coaches from around the world, Marcia and I waited for the program to begin. When the lights dimmed, Marcia felt a hand caress her long, wavy hair and turned around to face a handsome Argentine skier named Clemente Tellechea. Thus began a romance that flourished during the Olympics and beyond.
“Eddy, you should meet Clemente’s friend, Osvaldo,” Marcia said every time I left our apartment in San Francisco to go skiing with friends at Sugar Bowl. “He plays the guitar and sings.”
I wasn’t really interested in meeting Marcia’s friend … until later that year, when I went to Sugar Bowl for the annual Silver Belt race held in late April. I was chatting with friends in the lobby of the Sugar Bowl Lodge, when someone said, “Come, you’ve got to hear this guy singing in the bar.”
As soon as I saw a dark-haired ski racer, head bent over his guitar as his fingers raced up and down the strings, I knew it was Clemente’s friend. He was surrounded by admiring San Francisco socialites.
The next day, I saw him heading for the lift, and managed to say, “Me gusta como tocas la guitarra.” He looked puzzled and was obviously preoccupied with getting to the starting gate on top of Mt. Lincoln.
One month later, I went with a group of friends to Mammoth Mountain for Memorial Day. We knew that assorted U.S. and foreign racers would be there, and sure enough, I spotted Clemente and his friend skiing up to the chairlift. They both wore red neck scarves — “Día de Pamplona,” Clemente informed me, alluding to the annual festival in the Spanish city of Pamplona. With that he skied off, leaving Osvaldo waiting for the chair.
“Are you a single?” I asked, as I skied up and slid into the chair next to him, thinking this might be a good way to improve my Spanish.
On the way up he asked the usual questions — Donde vives? Cuantos años tienes? When I answered, “tengo veinte-cinco años,” he replied with a long, rapid answer. I only understood veinte cinco and something like necesita un doctor.
Oh my, I wondered; perhaps he needs a doctor. So I asked him and learned that what he actually said was, “That’s just what the doctor said I need a 25-year-old woman.”
The next day, a group of about 15 of us, including Clemente and Osvaldo, hiked up to the summit of Mammoth Mountain (11,000 feet, now accessible by gondola). Following the footholds of U.S. Ski Team member Tom Corcoran, we shouldered our skis and climbed, single file, up the mountain. About halfway up, someone behind me gently lifted my skis off my shoulder and transferred them to his shoulder. Still wearing his red bandana, Osvaldo winked, and we resumed climbing to the top, where we had a picnic lunch and then skied down to play soccer — in our ski boots — in the parking lot. The two Argentines were the stars.
Later that afternoon, we went to a nearby hot springs, where I learned that Osvaldo didn’t know how to swim — something unheard of in California. He told me about his hometown of Bariloche, surrounded by a big lake, about the mountains where he learned to ski, and how his mother had always warned him not to go near the water.
That evening, our group of assorted Olympic and recreational skiers, friends, and followers gathered for dinner in a house they had rented for the weekend. When I arrived, I saw Osvaldo sitting by the fireplace, playing his guitar, and singing an Argentine folk song about the lonely life of the gaucho, the nomadic horsemen of the Argentine and Uruguayan plains known for their colorful lifestyle.
Those who weren’t sitting in front of him enjoying the music were helping themselves to spaghetti and pouring wine.
After greeting friends new and old, I realized everyone was now eating. I filled a plate, poured a glass of wine, and delivered it to the table in front of Osvaldo, who put down his guitar and thanked me. That was the beginning of a lifelong romance.
Years later, Osvaldo told me, “That’s when you really got my attention. I couldn’t speak English, so I was always playing the guitar and singing. Sometimes I never got to eat.”
Sixty years later, I must admit that the old proverb, the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, is still true — if jumping on the chairlift with him doesn’t work.