The phrase—Cold War competition—brings to mind the arms race and nuclear proliferation, but the United States and the Soviet Union competed in many distinct fields. The Olympics provided opportunities to best each other in athletic competition and each country strove to bring home more medals than its sworn enemy. The cultural and scientific worlds provided other grand realms in which American and Soviet participants excelled. This week marks the anniversaries of two seminal moments in Cold War competition.
April 14, 1958
Van Cliburn, piano virtuoso and Texan, traveled to Moscow and won the inaugural Tchaikovsky Competition, defeating an international field including noted Soviet pianists. Van Cliburn received an eight minute standing ovation and when judges struggled with awarding the young American the prize, Nikita Khrushchev asked “Is he the best?...Then give him the prize.” Van Cliburn returned home to a hero’s welcome complete with a Manhattan ticker-tape parade. He subsequently has performed for every American president, including a performance for Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev. Fort Worth’s Van Cliburn International Piano Competition now serves as one of the world’s great musical competitions.
The Ivory Trade: Music and the Business of Music at the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition
Van Cliburn in Moscow
April 12, 1961
Yuri Gagarin, Soviet cosmonaut, became the first human in space. His spacecraft rocketed out of Earth’s gravitational pull and completed one orbit of our planet before returning to Soviet soil. The twenty-seven year-old became an international celebrity and was named a Hero of the Soviet Union, which was the highest honor in the Soviet Union. In celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of Gagarin’s accomplishment, First Orbit, a film depicting what he would have seen throughout his orbit has been released. The beautiful images belie what must have been an exhilarating and terrifying mission.
Countdown: a History of Space Flight
The Superpower Space Race