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 November–December 1956, apart from the equestrian events, which were held five months earlier in Stockholm, Sweden. The 1956 Games were the first to be staged in the Southern Hemisphere and Oceania, as well as the first to be held outside Europe and North America. Melbourne is the southernmost city to host the games. Equestrian events 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, which Antwerp, Belgium, co-hosted with Amsterdam and Ostend.
|1956 Summer Olympics bidding results|
|City||Country||Round 1||Round 2||Round 3||Round 4|
|Los Angeles||United States||5||4||5||—|
|San Francisco||United States||0||—||—||—|
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 must be held during the northern winter. The November–December schedule was thought likely to inconvenience athletes from the Northern Hemisphere, who were accustomed to resting during their winter.
Notwithstanding these concerns, the field of candidates eventually narrowed to two Southern Hemisphere cities, these being Melbourne and Buenos Aires, Argentina. 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 a world away.
The above problems of the Melbourne Games were compounded by bickering over financing among Australian politicians. Faced with a housing shortage, the Premier of Victoria (Henry Bolte) refused to allocate money for the Olympic Village (eventually sited in Heidelberg West), and the country's Prime Minister (Robert Menzies) 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 under way 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.
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, Cambodia, Spain, and Switzerland.
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.)
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 sprint races 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.
Australia also did well in swimming. 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.
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.
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 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 1.76 metres (5.8 ft), and Egil Danielsen of Norway overcame a troublesome wind with a remarkable javelin throw of 85.71 metres (281.2 ft).
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 took place against the background of the Soviet invasion of Hungary. 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.
In a much publicized Olympic romance, American hammer throw champion Harold Connolly would marry Czechoslovak discus throw champion, Olga Fikotová. After moving to the U.S., Olga wanted to continue representing Czechoslovakia, but the Czechoslovak Olympic Committee refused to allow her to do so. Thereafter, as Olga Connolly, she took part in every Olympics till 1972 competing for the United States. She carried the flag for the United States at the 1972 Summer Olympics.
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.
The Olympic Flame was relayed to Melbourne after being lit at Olympia on 2 November 1956.
The 1956 Summer Olympic programme featured 151 events (145 events in Melbourne and 6 equestrian events in Stockholm) in the following 17 sports:
A total of 67 nations competed in Melbourne. Cambodia (that competed only in the equestrian events in Stockholm), 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.
|Participating National Olympic Committees|
These are the top ten nations that won medals at the 1956 Games.
|7||United Team of Germany||6||13||7||26|
Host nation (Australia)
Some buildings from the 1956 Olympics still survive. The former Olympic Pool remains as part of the Westpac Centre at the Olympic Park complex. The former athletes' village in Heidelberg West remains as public housing, and the small stadium there is home of local Association Football team Heidelberg United FC. Certain buildings predating the Olympics (such as St Kilda Town Hall, where the fencing events were held) and West Melbourne Stadium (subsequently renamed Festival Hall ) still stand. The Olympic Stand at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, however, was demolished in 2004.
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|Summer Olympic Games
XVI Olympiad (1956)