Melbourne 1956, The XVI Olympiad
Text extracts from The Herald-Sun, Australian Olympic History
Melbourne’s Olympic Games, from the 22 November to 8 December 1956, marked the first time in Olympic history that the Games had been held in the southern hemisphere. They were preceded by a period of immense international tension, with the Cold War raging, and Soviet tanks rolling into Hungary. Armed forces from Israel. Briton and France had moved into Egypt to annex the Suez Canal, and relations between Taiwan and Mainland China were barely tolerable. All this led to a spate of boycotts of the Games, from the Netherlands, Spain, Switzerland, Egypt, Lebanon and Iraq. Because of the boycotts and Melbourne’s remoteness from Europe, the number of competitors (2958 men and 384 women) was the smallest since 1932 – although a surprisingly large number of 69 nations competed. At home, the pre-Games period was plagued by disorganization and industrial unrest, and at one stage the IOC threatened to take the Games from Melbourne. Another setback forced by Australia’s strict quarantine laws, was the decision to hold equestrian events in Stockholm, Sweden.
Despite all this, the XVI Olympiad was a magnificent success, and – because of goodwill between the teams and the generous spirit of the crowds – became known forever as the Friendly Games. The mood of goodwill was consolidated by the decision of the organizers to adopt a suggestion from John Ian Wing, an Australian-born Chinese apprentice carpenter, that all teams should mingle and walk (not march) during the closing ceremony. This has been done ever since.
Competing on home soil for the first time, Australia fielded a record team of 291 (including 35 women) at the 1956 Olympic Games, and had its most bountiful medal haul. The team won 13 gold medals, 8 silver and 14 bronze. After a glorious Opening Ceremony in which Ron Clarke lit the Olympic flame and John Landy took the Olympic oath on behalf of assembled athletes, the Games ushered in a new crop of Australian heroes and heroines with names like Cuthbert, Fraser, Crapp, Rose and Henricks.
On the Melbourne Cricket Ground, Betty Cuthbert won three gold medals, in the 100 and 200 metres and 4 x 100 relay. Her team-mate Shirley Strickland, who had already won gold in Helsinki in the 80 metres hurdles, defended that title successfully and combined with Cuthbert, Fleur Mellor and Norma Croker to win in the relay.
At the swimming pool young Australians, who had trained in Townsville during winter, shocked the world by winning every freestyle gold medal, men’s and women’s. Murray Rose. A 17 year old raised on a diet that included raw seaweed, matched Cuthbert’s performance by winning gold in the 400 and 1500 metres and 4 x 200 relay. Dawn Fraser won the first two gold medals of a remarkable career, in the 100 freestyle and the relay, and Lorraine Crapp won the 400 and shared the relay win. Jon Henricks took the 100 metres freestyle, with another gold in the relay. Queensland’s David Theile won the first of his two successive 100 metres backstroke championships.
At the velodrome, Ian Browne and Tony Marchant took over the tandem title that had been won in Helsinki by Russell Mockridge and Lionel Cox. On the running track, Kevan Gosper, later an IOC vice-president, won silver in the 4 x 400 relay.
Country Gold Silver Bronze Total
1 USSR 37 29 32 98
2 USA 32 25 17 74
3 Australia 13 8 14 35
4 Hungary 9 10 7 26
5 Italy 8 8 9 25
Sports and locations
Opening and closing ceremonies – MCG
Athletics – MCG
Basketball – The Glaciarium
Fencing – StKilda Town Hall
Soccer – MCG and Olympic Park
Weightlifting – Royal Exhibition Building
Modern pentathlon – Oaklands Huntclub and various arenas
Boxing – Melbourne Festival Hall
Hockey – MCG and Olympic Park
Yachting – Port Phillip Bay
Shooting – Williamstown range and RAAF station at Laverton
Rowing – Lake Wendouree, Ballarat
Swimming and Diving – Olympic Swimming Pool
Wrestling – Royal Exhibition Building
Cycling – Olympic Velodrome and country road course, Broadmeadows
Gymnastics – The Glaciarium
Demonstrations – MCG
The Olympic Village was at Heidelberg.
The Olympic Stadia during the games.
Ron Clarke lighting the Olympic flame.
The Olympic Village.
REB, location for wrestling and weightlifting.
The now demolished Glaciarium, location for basketball and gymnastics.
The Olympic Pool, location for swimming and diving.
Lake Wendouree, Ballarat, location for rowing events.