Friday 13 April 2012

1956 Summer Olympics Melbourne: XVI Olympiad

Main poster for the XVI Games
The main competition for the 1956 Games came from Buenos Aires, Argentina and was decided by a single vote on the 4th Round for voting at the 43rd IOC Session in Rome, Italy. Eliminated after the first round were Chicago, Minneapolis, Philadelphia and San Francisco all in the USA. Mexico City after losing 6 of its nine first round votes was eliminated after round two and Los Angeles and Detroit were eliminated after the third round. All six USA cities totalled 10 votes in the first round which would have been more than Buenos Aires and Mexico's nine at that stage had there been a unity candidate.

However, the win for Melbourne meant that the Games were coming south of the Equator for the first time in their history.

Nations 72 (+3)
Competitors 3314 (-1641)
Sports 17 (NC)
Events 145 (-4)

22 November to 8 December, 1956 hosted by Melbourne, Australia


11 to 17 June, 1958 equestrian events hosted by Stockholm, Sweden

Poster for the Equestrian Games
For only the second time the games were held across two countries. Whereas in 1920 in Antwerp, it was one sailing event was moved due to water conditions in this case an entire sport was moved.

Horses in Stockholm

However, an IOC Congress in Athens in 1954 having decided that the the "rigorous stipulations in Australia for bringing in of horses" made it impossible to hold the equestrian events there and entrusted this part of the Games to Stockholm, Sweden.

Bizarrely having the events in two totally separate nations at totally separate teams it meant that five nations took part in the XVI Olympiad without sending any competitors to the 'host' city. These were Cambodia, Egypt, Netherlands, Spain and Switzerland. Of those the Swiss are unique in being the only country to have won an Olympic medal without sending an Athlete to the country that was awarded the Games, with a bronze in the team dressage.

Several of the teams chartered planes to bring their horses to the games. But those from Portugal spent five days on a train to get there. They were then stabled with the Swedish Horse Guards only a few hundred metres from the Stockholm Stadium.

The Olympic Stadion from the 1912 Games was used to host the showjumping and dressage events. Indeed the stadium had been designed in such a way to allow it to be transformed to allow for showjumping overnight even in the 1912 Games, at which Sweden won the team events in jumping and three-day eventing. This was also the venue for showjumping and dressage phases of the eventing.

The three-day eventing endurance phase started about 1 km from the stables. The first phase 7.2km at a pace of no more than 240m per minute started as Husarbron in the Lilljansskogen wood. The second phase 3.6km over just 12 obstacles within a pace of 600m per minute, though there was bonuses for riding it faster than 690m/min, took place at the Ulriksdal dirt track to the north of Stockholm. The cool down period then was a further 14.4km over the same track and conditions of phase one.

Queen Elizabeth II along with her sister visited the equestrian part of the Games, taking a keen interest in the three-day eventing. Especially the that of Britain's Bernie Hicks who she is seen here watching him riding her horse Countryman III through the water obstacle along with (pictured to her left) Princess Margaret, the Duchess of Gloucester and Princess Sibylla of Sweden. Despite the rain Her Majesty, the Swedish Royal Family and members of other European Royal houses spent most of the afternoon watching the competitors.

The following day for the third discipline the sun was out again and the two Royal Families who between them were hosting the 1956 Olympic Games shared the first golden haul of this summer's Games. In the individual event Petrus Kastenman on Iluster (pictured right) took the individual honours. But Queen Elizabeth's horse with Hicks and Francis Weldon on Kilbarry and Arthur Rook on Wild venture took the honour's for Great Britain and the Queen of Australia.

Sweden dominated the dressage taking both individual and team gold, something that the German's did in the showjumping.

So to Australia

After a successful week in June in Sweden it was off to Australia in November for the main event. Although since the Equestrian Games the USSR had occupied Hungary which led to the withdrawal of Netherlands, Spain and Switzerland who had all competed in Stockholm. Although both Hungary and the USSR took part. It was the turn of the People's Republic of China to boycott the Games because the Republic of China (Taiwan) was being allowed to compete under the name Formosa. There was also the Suez Crisis which led to the non-appearance of Egypt and Malta.

The teams of East and West Germany meanwhile competed as a combined Germany team this arrangement would carry on until 1968.

New nations were Ethiopia, Fiji, Kenya, Liberia, Federation of Malaya, North Borneo (now Sabah part of Malaysia) and Uganda.

Ethiopia and Kenya where not yet the world strength in middle to long distance running they have become and indeed while Ethiopia sent three runners to the marathon, Kenya only sent one man to the 5000m coming 7th, a marathon runner and a high jumper. Of the new nations it was Malaya that had the best performer when K.B. Tan came 6th in the Middle-Heavyweight 82.5-90kg weightlifting category.

With all the tension in the world the Olympic Truce never felt more real than at the Melbourne Games and when the Organising Committee President received this letter a very special Olympic tradition was created:

"Mr. Hughes,
"I believe it has been suggested that a march should be put on during the Closing Ceremony, and you said it couldn't be done. I think it can be done.
That one Olympic nation march at the closing ceremony
During the march there will be only one Nation. War, politics, and nationality will be all forgotten. What more could anybody want, if the whole world could be made as one Nation ? 
"Well, you can do it in a small way. This is how I think . . . No team is to keep together and there should be no more than two team-mates together. They must be spread out evenly . . . I'm certain everybody, even yourself, would agree this would be a great occasion . . . no-one would forget. The important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win, but to take part."

The letter came from John Ian Wing and Australian-born Chinese carpenter's apprentice. At a meeting on the lunchtime before the closing ceremony the idea which had sparked the imagination of H. S. Kent Hughes finally got the approval of those that had to sign off on the idea. The now familiar sight of the athletes mingling together as they enter the stadium one last time was born and came into being the next day 8 December. Although it was still a formal column rather than the mass of exuberant athletes we will undoubtedly see again on 12 August.

Now on Television

Television arrives at the Olympics
1956 saw a new way to broadcast the games. Television was just starting to take off, but these were the Games that were first to welcome TV into the celebration. However, it was not without complications as the newsreel providers didn't like the encroachment unto their turf.

As the Official Report says:

The Organizing Committee, therefore, through no fault of its own, found itself in the midst of a battle royal between news gatherers and entertainment providers. Direct telecasts of sporting events in Great Britain and America had always been " entertainment " but, because the Melbourne Olympic Games would be shown by film after the event took place, they were claimed as news.
Sport is recognized as one of the best television features, but apparently it will be some time before agreement will be reached as to what is a fair payment to both television and the sport concerned. The Organizing Committee also realized that, if they departed from the recognized standard of three minutes daily free for newsreels, they might be setting a precedent for other sports and for future Olympic Games. Pages 156-7
In the end the three minute daily offer to the newsreel companies was left open. But the television broadcast was nothing like the total saturation we have today. There were six half-hour programmes produced for American syndication. Japan also received footage both for TV and movie theatres. England took film stock and produced a 75 minute film for release 10 days after the conclusion of the Games, versions of which were then dispatched across Europe.

Locally in Australia TV companies in Melbourne and Sydney had only been operating a matter of weeks when the Games opened. But were given the option of screening material daily from any venue that had sold out. This meant that the option arose for daily coverage of the main arena. A nominal fee was charged due to the small amount of sets available in Australia at the time but film was sent daily to Sydney for broadcast there.

Blood in the water

The most famous game of water polo in Olympic history wasn't even in the final. But is wasn't just about the game that made the game so important. Less than a month before the Games opened there was an uprising in the Hungarian capital Budapest against the puppet Soviet regime. On the 1 November Soviet tanks rolled into Budapest, while the favourites for Waterpolo gold were in their training camp above the capital while the  unrest was being quelled. The Hungarian waterpolo team found themselves moved to Czechoslovakia to complete their pre-Games training. They only learnt of the extent of the '56 Hungarian Revolution when they arrived in Australia.

Evrin Zádor (Hun) leaving the pool after the
semi-final against the USSR
Many Hungarian athletes had decided that that would not return home at the end of the Games. So when the semi finals brought Hungary and the USSR together, two of the top nations along with Yugoslavia, there was a sense that the Hungarians wanted to show the USSR they were nobody's stooge.

The Hungarians had been taught Russian as part of their schooling so insults were flying in their opponents native tongue from the start. At one point team captain Dezső Gyarmati (who with the exception of 1968 was involved as player or head coach in each Hungarian team) punched one of the Russians which was caught on film.

Evrin Zádor who already had scored three in the tournament got two more in this match to help the Hungarians to a 4-0 lead. In the dying minutes of the game however Valentin Prokopov hit him across the face leading to blood pouring from around his right eye. The referee stopped the match early after the incident for fear that the crowd was going to get violent.

Zádor was one of the defectors from that team, he went to the USA were he coached a great name from the 1972 Olympics Mark Spitz.

Coxing from the front
Finding a course for the rowing in Melbourne itself proved impossible the two options the lake in Albert Park and the Yarra River didn't measure up to Olympic standards, a new bridge on the River meant that the division into lanes was impossible and the lake was too short and narrow. So the events took place at Ballarat on Lake Wendouree. The lake was almost square and to accommodate a 2000m straight course the lanes were laid out diagonally across the lake.

However, the shock of the Games was the boat in which the German coxed pairs emerged. Their cox Rainer Borkowsky was sitting in the bow of the boat with Karl-Henrich von Groddeck and Horst Arndt rowing behind him. Having won their heat and then narrowly beating the USA in their semi-final they suffered a reversal to Arthur Ayrault, Conn Findlay and cox Armin Seiffert.

Conn Findlay from that winning American crew would go on to medal in four Olympics taking coxed pair bronze with Richard Draeger in Rome in 1960 and another gold in 1964 at Tokyo with Edward Ferry on both occasions with Kent Mitchell coxing. But in 1976 he became one of the few Olympians to medal in different sports when he took bronze in the Tempest Class sailing with Dennis Conner , the man who famously lost the America's Cup for the first time in 132 years.

Three times a champ

Papp on the right taking his third consecutive gold
beating Torres on the left with a unanimous decision
On the 1 December at ring side people were gathered to see if Olympic history could be made. Having won gold as a middleweight in London in 1948 and Gold at light-middleweight in Helsinki four years before László Papp of Hungary was attempted to retain his Olympic title for an unprecedented third gold. The southpaw in the end defeated José Torres of the USA by a unanimous decision.

Both would go on to have pro careers Papp circumventing the ban on professional boxing in Hungary by training and fighting in Austria but it would be the American who would pick up a world title at light-heavyweight and not the three time Olympic champion.

More Hungarian gold

While Larisa Latyina of the USSR dominated the individual all around in women's gymnastics and their team the team gold. Three of the four apparatus golds went to the woman who came second in the individual Agnes Keleti of Hungary.  She along with the gold for floor (which she'd defended), beam and uneven bars helped Hungary to pick up team gold for portable apparatus the equivalent of rhythmic gymnastics.

However she was 35 at the time of Melbourne as was very lucky to even have been at any Olympics. In 1940 she was hotly tipped to take a gold for Hungary in the 1940 Games but of course World War II put a stop to that. But Keleti was an Hungarian Jew and went into hiding purchasing papers that said she was a Christian maid in a village in the countryside. Her father died in Auschwitz while her mother and sister like her survived by going into hiding. She would have taken part in London in 1948 but she was injured, so she made her Olympic gymnastic debut aged 31 in 1952 with gold in the floor, sliver in the team and bronze in team portable apparatus and uneven bars.

She took her four golds, along with individual and team silver medals with her as one of the 45 Hungarians, almost half their team, who stayed in Australia after the Games seeking political asylum, she settled in Israel and sent for her mother and sister to join her. She is still alive aged 91.

Ireland's crook of gold

Australia had John Landy the second man to run a sub four minute mile and a past holder of the 1500m record holder as home favourite for the metric mile on the track. He's even taken the Olympic Oath at the opening ceremony. When world record holder Isván Rozsavolgyi (Hun) and defending champion Josy Barthel failed to make it out of their heats,  even though five of the men who made the final had run a mile in under 4 minutes, Landy was still perceived to be predestined to be the Olympic champion.

Nobody had shown that script to the man who earlier that year had become the seventh man to enter that that sub four club and one of my predecessors into that club from this island.

Ron Delany is was who ran the tactical race. He stuck with Landy throughout and as the race entered the final bend with Landy near the back the Irishman started his burst quickly opening up a four metre lead. The German Klaus Richtzenhain was the first to respond and in the end he held off Landy for the silver but nobody could beat the Irishman to the tape.

Surprisingly despite great athletes like Eamon Coghlan, John Treacy, Sonia O'Sullivan, Cathrina McKiernan Ireland have yet to win an athletics gold medal since. Indeed he was the last Irish Olympic champion in any sport until 1992.

See also The full list of my posts of other Olympiads

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