March 06, 2019 4 min read

The 1956 Melbourne Olympics, the sixteenth- of the modern Olympics, were held between November 22nd and December 8th and were the first to be staged outside Europe and North America. For the first time television highlights of some of the events were broadcast around the world. Melbourne remains the most southerly venue ever to host the Olympic Games. 


Sixty seven countries participated in Melbourne and earlier in the year in Stockholm, where the equine events were held owing to Australia’s strict quarantine regulations of the time. The staging of the Olympics in months corresponding to the northern hemisphere’s winter caused significant controversy at the time, but history has recorded the event as an unqualified success and in the final vote, held in 1949, the only city left competing with Melbourne to host the Games was Buenos Aires.


Australia faced multiple difficulties in its staging, on the grounds of finance and completion dates, and as late as 1955 there was a real possibility that the venue would be switched to Rome, which had been chosen to host the 1960 Olympics. At the beginning of 1956 the scheduling of building and securing of finances were both in place and Melbourne was confirmed as the host city.


The Olympic ideal of a politics-free event was extinguished by the non-participation in Melbourne of Egypt, Iraq and Lebanon over the Suez-crisis-related invasion of Egypt by Israel, Great Britain and France. The USSR’s entry into Hungary and participation in the Games saw the Netherlands, Cambodia, Spain, and Switzerland withdraw in protest. The People’s Republic of China did the same, ten days before the Olympics were to start, owing to the inclusion in the event by the IOC of the Republic of China. Germany entered the Games as a united country, as they did in 1960 and 1964, after which West- and East Germany competed as two separate teams.


The so-called ‘Friendly Games’ was the first in which all of the participants’ athletes mixed together, rather than as separate teams, for the final parade before the spectators, the start of an Olympic tradition that has taken place ever since. Seventeen year old Australian carpenter John Wing’s anonymous letter to the IOC accentuated the theme in his three lines, ‘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’.


Melbourne Cricket Ground staged the athletics events and saw the hosts dominate in several events, including women’s track and field, in which eighteen year old Betty Cuthbert won Gold in the 100m, 200m and 4 x 100m relay. Shirley Strickland retained the 80 metres hurdles title she had won in Helsinki in 1952 and won a second Gold in the 4 x 100 metres relay. Australia won all of the men’s and women’s freestyle swimming competitions, with eight Golds, four Silvers and two Bronze medals, Murray Rose winning two of the freestyle events and Dawn Fraser Gold medals in the 100 metres freestyle- and 4 x 100 metre relay. US diver Patricia McCormick, repeated her double-Gold medal performance from 1952 by winning both the springboard and platform events.


Another outstanding display of consistency came from the Indian men’s hockey team, who won their sixth consecutive Olympic Gold. Men's track and field was to the US as swimming was to Australia, the American team winning Gold in fifteen of the twenty four events, including Gold, Silver, Bronze in four of these and first and second in five more. Bobby Morrow won three Golds, in the 100m, 200m and 4 x 100m relay, breaking the world record in the 200 metres and the US relay
team doing the same in their event. 


The home crowd assumed that their own John Landy would lift Gold in his favorite distance, the 1500 metres, but Ireland’s Ronnie Delaney completed the last lap in less than fifty four seconds, came from the back of the twelve-man field and won Gold. Great Britain’s Chris Brasher's became the first Briton to win a Gold medal in track and field since the Berlin Games in 1936 in his victory in the 3000 metres Steeplechase. Two more world records were set in women’s events, the first by American Mildred McDaniel in the High Jump, in which she cleared 5 feet eight inches (1.76 metres) and the second Egil Danielson of Norway in the Javelin, with her throw of 281 feet and two inches (85.71 metres). Veteran Hungarian boxer Laszlo Papp of Hungary had won Gold in London in 1948, in Helsinki in 1952 and completed his third in Melbourne, at light-middleweight, in his victory over America’s Jose Torres.


Hungary’s renowned sporting pedigree bore fruit again in the pool as the country’s water polo team took Gold, beating the Soviet Union in the Semis - in which the police were called in to restore order to a violent match - and Yugoslavia in the Final. The USSR’s Vladimir Kuts won both the 5,000 metre and 10,000 metre events, breaking the Olympic record in both, the margin of his winning time in the 5,000m over eleven seconds and his winning 10,000m time 28:30.4. Kuts’s compatriot, Larissa Latynina, appearing in the Olympics for the first time, won three Gold- and two Silver medals, including the all-around event. Australia finished third in the Gold medals table, with thirteen - the country’s highest-ever
placing - behind USSR and the USA, who won thirty seven and thirty two Golds

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