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1956 Summer Olympics
1956olympics
Some attributes
First Host city:

Melbourne

Second Nations participating:

72

Third Athletes participating:

3,314

Other attributes
Fourth Events:

145 in 17 sports

The 1956 Summer Olympics, officially known as the Games of the XVI Olympiad, were an international multi-sport event which was held in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, in 1956, apart from the equestrian events, which were held five months earlier in Stockholm, Sweden. Equestrian could not be held in Australia due to quarantine regulations. This was the second Olympics not to be held entirely in one country, the first being the 1920 Summer Olympics. The 1956 Games were the first to be staged in the Southern Hemisphere, as well as the first to be held outside Europe and North America.

Prelude

Many members of the IOC were sceptical about Melbourne as an appropriate site. Its location in the Southern Hemisphere was a major concern, since the reversal of seasons would mean the Games were held during the northern winter. This was thought likely to inconvenience athletes from the Northern Hemisphere who were accustomed to resting during their winter.

Melbourne was selected, in 1949, to host the 1956 Olympics by a one-vote margin. The first sign of trouble was the revelation that Australian equine quarantine would prevent the country from hosting the equestrian events. Stockholm was selected as the alternative site, so equestrian competition began on 10 June, five and a half months before the rest of the Olympic games were to open, half the world away.

The problems of the Melbourne Games were compounded by bickering over financing among Australian politicians. Faced with a housing shortage, the Premier of Victoria refused to allocate money for the Olympic Village (eventually sited in Heidelberg West), and the country's Prime Minister barred the use of federal funds.

At one point, IOC President Avery Brundage suggested that Rome, which was to host the 1960 Games, was so far ahead of Melbourne in preparations that it might be ready as a replacement site in 1956.

As late as April 1955, Brundage was still doubtful about Melbourne, and was not satisfied by an inspection trip to the city. Construction was well underway by then, thanks to a $4.5 million federal loan to Victoria, but it was behind schedule. He still held out the possibility that Rome might have to step in.

By the beginning of 1956, though, it was obvious that Melbourne would be ready for the Olympics.

Participation and boycotts

Egypt, Iraq, and Lebanon announced that they would not participate in the Olympics in response to the Suez Crisis when Egypt was invaded by Israel, the United Kingdom, and France after Egypt nationalised the Suez canal. Meanwhile, in 1956 the Soviet Union crushed the Hungarian Revolution, and the Soviet presence at the Games led to the withdrawal of the Netherlands, Spain, and Switzerland.

Less than two weeks before the 22 November opening ceremony, the People's Republic of China chose to boycott the event because the Republic of China had been allowed to compete under the name "Formosa".

Although the number of countries participating (67) was almost the same as in 1952 (69), the number of athletes competing dropped sharply, from 4,925 to 3,342. (This figure does not include the 158 athletes from 29 countries who took part in the Stockholm equestrian competition.)

 Events

Coles1956olympics

Coles' Olympic Games decorations, December, 1956. Bourke Street, Melbourne.

Once underway, the Games unfolded smoothly, and became known as the "Friendly Games". Betty Cuthbert, an 18-year-old from Sydney, won the 100- and 200-metre dashes and ran a great final leg in the 4 x 100-metre relay to overcome Great Britain's lead and claim her third gold medal. The veteran Shirley Strickland repeated in the 80-metre hurdles and also ran on the relay team, running her career total to seven, three golds, a silver, and three bronze medals.

But it was in swimming that the Australians really shone. They won all of the freestyle races, men's and women's, and collected a total of eight gold, four silver and two bronze medals. Murray Rose became the first male swimmer to win two freestyle events since Johnny Weissmuller in 1924, while Dawn Fraser won gold medals in the 100-metre freestyle and as the leadoff swimmer on the 4 x 100-metre relay team.

Controversial judging prevented the United States from winning all four diving events, which had become almost customary. Pat McCormick again took gold medals in both the springboard and the platform, and Bob Clotworthy won the men's springboard. However, Gary Tobian was given unusually low scores by the Soviet and Hungarian judges, and he finished second by just .03 to Mexico's Joaquim Capilla in the platform event.

United States men dominated track and field. They not only won 15 of 24 events, they swept four of them and finished first and second in five others. Bobby Morrow led the way with gold medals in the 100- and 200-metre dashes and the 4 x 100-metre relay. Tom Courtney barely overtook Great Britain's Derek Johnson in the 800-metre run, then collapsed from the exertion and needed medical attention.

Vladimir Kuts of the Soviet Union ran away from his competition in the 5,000- and 10,000-metre runs, while Ireland's Ron Delany ran a brilliant 53.8 over the last 400 metres to win the 1,500-metre run, in which favourite John Landy of Australia finished third.

There was a major upset, marred briefly by controversy, in the 3,000-metre steeplechase. Little-known Chris Brasher of Great Britain finished well ahead of the field, but judges announced that he was disqualified for interfering with Norway's Ernst Larsen, and they anointed Sándor Rozsnyói of Hungary as the winner. Brasher's appeal, remarkably, was supported by Larsen, Rozsnyói, and fourth-place finisher Heinz Laufer of Germany. The decision was reversed and Brasher became the first Briton to win a gold medal in track and field since 1936.

Only two world records were set in track and field. Mildred McDaniel, the first American woman to win gold in the sport, set a high jump record of 5 feet 9+14 inches (1.759 m) and Egil Danielsen of Norway overcame a troublesome wind with a remarkable javelin throw of 281 feet 2+12 inches (85.712 m).

Throughout the Olympics, Hungarian athletes were cheered by fans from Australia and other countries. Many of them gathered in the boxing arena when thirty-year-old Laszlo Papp of Hungary won his third gold medal by beating José Torres for the light-middleweight championship.

A few days later, the crowd was with the Hungarian water polo team in its match against the Soviet Union which became known as the Blood In The Water match. The game became rough and, when a Hungarian was forced to leave the pool with blood streaming from a cut over his eye, a riot almost broke out. But police restored order and the game was called early, with Hungary leading 4–0. The Hungarians went on to win the gold medal.

Despite the international tensions of 1956 – or perhaps because of them – a young Melburnian, John Ian Wing, came up with a new idea for the closing ceremony. Instead of marching as teams, behind their national flags, the athletes mingled with one another as they paraded into and around the arena for a final appearance before the spectators. That began an Olympic tradition that has been followed ever since.

Highlights

  • Hungary and the Soviet Union were both present at the Games which, among other things, led to a hotly contested and violent water polo encounter between the nations.
  • Athletes from both East and West Germany competed in a combined team. This remarkable combination would disappear at the 1968 Summer Olympics.
  • Australian athlete Betty Cuthbert became the "Golden Girl" by winning three track gold medals. Her performance was equalled by sprinter Bobby Morrow.
  • Another Australian, Murray Rose, won three gold medals in swimming.
  • Soviet runner Vladimir Kuts won both the 5000m and 10000m.
  • Inspired by Australian teenager John Wing, an Olympic tradition began when athletes of different nations are allowed to parade together at the closing ceremony, instead of with their national teams, as a symbol of world unity.
During the Games there will be only one nation. War, politics and nationalities will be forgotten. What more could anybody want if the world could be made one nation.

—Extract from a letter by John Ian Wing to the Olympic organisers, 1956

  • Laszlo Papp defended his light-middleweight boxing title, gaining an unprecedented third gold.
  • Ronnie Delany won gold for Ireland in the 1500m final. It is the last gold medal Ireland has won in a track event.
  • The India national field hockey team won its sixth consecutive gold

Olympic Flame Relay

The Olympic Flame was relayed to Melbourne after being lit at Olympia on 2 November 1956.

  • Greek runners took the flame to Athens.
  • The flame was transferred to a miner's lamp then flown by Qantas Super Constellation aircraft "Southern Horizon" to Darwin, Northern Territory.
  • A Royal Australian Air Force English Electric Canberra jet bomber flew it to Cairns, Queensland where it arrived on 9 November 1956.
  • The Mayor of Cairns, Alderman W.J. Fulton, lit the first torch.
  • The first runner was Con Verevis, a local man of Greek parentage.
  • The flame was relayed down the east coast of Australia using diecast aluminium torches weighing about 3 pounds (1.8 kg).
  • The flame arrived in Melbourne on 22 November 1956.
  • The Olympic Flame was lit at the stadium by Ron Clarke.

When the Olympic Flame was being carried to Sydney, an Australian veterinary student named Barry Larkin carried a fake Olympic Flame and fooled the mayor of Sydney.

Venues

Ballarat
  • Lake Wendouree – Canoeing, Rowing


Melbourne
  • Broadmeadows – Cycling (road)
  • Hockey Field – Field hockey
  • Melbourne Cricket Ground – Athletics, Field hockey (final), Football (final)
  • Oaklands Hunt Club – Modern pentathlon (riding, running)
  • Olympic Park Stadium – Football
  • Port Phillip – Sailing
  • Royal Australian Air Force, Laverton Air Base – Shooting (shotgun)
  • Royal Exhibition Building – Basketball (final), Modern pentathlon (fencing), Weightlifting, Wrestling
  • St Kilda Town Hall – Fencing
  • Swimming/Diving Stadium – Diving, Modern pentathlon (swimming), Swimming, Water polo
  • Velodrome – Cycling (track)
  • West Melbourne Stadium – Basketball, Boxing, Gymnastics
  • Williamstown – Modern pentathlon (shooting), Shooting (pistol, rifle)


Stockholm
  • Lill-Jansskogen – Equestrian (eventing)
  • Olympic Stadium – Equestrian (dressage, eventing, jumping)
  • Ulriksdal – Equestrian (eventing)

 Participating National Olympic Committees

A total of 67 nations competed in Melbourne. Ethiopia, Fiji, Kenya, Liberia, Federation of Malaya, North Borneo (modern-day Sabah of Malaysia), and Uganda made their Olympic debut. Athletes from East Germany and West Germany competed together as the United Team of Germany, an arrangement that would last until 1968.

For the first time the team of Republic of China effectively represented only Taiwan.This was the Olympic debut for Cambodia. Egypt did not compete in Melbourne due to the Suez Crisis, whilst Netherlands, Spain and Switzerland all boycotted the Australian event in protest at the Soviet invasion of Hungary.

Medal count

These are the top ten nations that won medals at the 1956 Games.

Rank Nation Gold Silver Bronze Total
1 Soviet Union 37 29 32 98
2 United States 32 25 17 74
3 Australia 13 8 14 35
4 Hungary 9 10 7 26
5 Italy 8 8 9 25
6 Sweden 8 5 6 19
7 Germany 6 13 7 26
8 Great Britain 6 7 11 24
9 Romania 5 3 5 13
10 Japan 4 10 5 19

Buildings from the Olympics

Melbourne olmpic pool (lexus centre)

The heritage registered former Olympic Pool (now Westpac Centre) from the Yarra River

The Olympics left Melbourne with some landmark buildings. The Olympic Stand at the Melbourne Cricket Ground was demolished in 2004. However, the former Olympic Pool remains as part of the Westpac Centre at the Olympic Park complex. The former athlete's village in Heidelberg West, Victoria remains as public housing, and the small stadium there is home of local Association Football team Heidelberg United FC. St Kilda Town Hall, where the fencing events were held, also still remains

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