1956 Melbourne Games
The 1956 Olympic Games were in Melbourne, Victoria. This was the first Olympics held in the southern hemisphere. All previous Olympics had been in Europe and the United States of America.
James Pa’ Taylor had tried to get Australia to host the 1936 Olympics. But he did not succeed. Twenty years later, with the help of many people, Australia was chosen to host an Olympics.
The Lord Decemberor, Frank Beaurepaire, worked very hard to have Melbourne chosen to host the Games. He had to convince important Australian business people, government leaders and the International Olympic Committee (I.O.C.) that Melbourne would be a good place for an Olympics. The I.O.C. ended up choosing Melbourne just ahead of South American city, Buenos Aires in Argentina.
There were many problems before the Games could took place. Australia is a long way away from most of the world and is careful not to have unwanted diseases and animals come into the country. Because of this horses, which would compete in the equestrian events, were not allowed into Australia. So Sweden had to host the equestrian events. This was the only time an Olympics was held in two different countries.
There were also fights about stadiums and problems getting Melbounre ready for the Games. There was even a chance the Olympics could be taken off Melbourne and given to another country.
On a sunny December day the 1956 Olympic Games was officially opened by Prince Philip. The Olympic Flame was lit by Ron Clarke and the Olympic Oath was led by John Landy.
At the Melbourne Games there were:
72 participating countries
291 Australian athletes
Australia won 13 gold medals, 8 silver medals and 14 bronze medals. Only two countries won more gold medals; Russia and America.
Australia had 291 athletes take part in Melbourne. This was much bigger than any other Australian team ever. With the home crowd cheering and so many athletes Australia won its most medal ever.
The Olympic Village was built in the Melbourne suburb of Heidelberg. It took two years to build and cost the Government 2 million pounds. (That’s $900 million in today’s money.) Seven hundred and eighty brick and concrete houses were built to provide accommodation for over 6000 athletes and officials.
The Olympic Park Stadium was built as a training site for the 1956 Games. It had room for almost 20,000 spectators.
The stadium had a new athletics track and a soccer pitch. The most important soccer organisation in the world, FIFA, officially recognized the soccer pitch.
The Games were held at different places in or around Melbourne. The opening and closing ceremonies were held at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (M.C.G). The track and field events, the hockey finals and soccer finals were also held there.
Many Australian athletes starred in front of their home crowd. Betty Cuthbert, Dawn Fraser, Shirley Strickland and Murray Rose all won more than one gold medal.
Betty Cuthbert won three gold medals in the athletics. She won gold in the 100 metres, the 200 metres and the 4 x 100 metre relay.
She ran Olympic records for the 100 metres and the 200 metres. As a member of the 4 x 100 metre relay team she also set a new world record twice.
Remarkably Cuthbert was only 18 during the Melbourne Games. She went on to win her fourth gold medal at the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo, Japan. She was known as the “Golden Girl”.
Dawn Fraser was the hero in the swimming pool. She won gold in the 100 metres freestyle and the 4 x 100 metres freestyle relay. She also won a silver medal in the 400 metres freestyle.
Shirley Strickland won the gold in the 4 x 100 metres relay and the 80m hurdles in Melbourne. She had also won a gold in the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki, Finland.
By the end of her career Strickland had won seven medals in three Olympic Games. She had won three gold, one silver and three bronze medals. No Australian had won more Olympic medals. She later married and became known as Shirley De La Hunty.
Swimmer Murray Rose first took part in the Olympics in Melbourne. He won gold in the 800 metres and the 1500 metres freestyle race. He also won a gold medal in the relay. As Australian winning gold medals at home he became a national hero straightaway.
Melbourne’s closing ceremony created history. Olympics closing ceremonies used to have athletes march with their own country, much like at the opening ceremonies.
But a 17 year old school boy, John Lan Wing, suggested that athletes should walk together with people from other countries beside them. They would wave to the crowd and the ceremony would unite athletes from around the world.
The Olympic organisers took up John Lan Wing’s suggestion. Every Olympic closing ceremony is now like this.