Moments of Melbourne, Part 15 - Saturday, December 8th, 1956

The last day of the 1956 Melbourne Olympics was different from any other in history. Until the late 1970s, the last competition to be held before the closing ceremony, was the team show jumping. But as the equestrian events had been relocated to Stockholm due to Australian quarantine laws, the Melbourne organizers had to make an adjustment. That is why the last gold medal of 1956 was awarded to the football team of the USSR. The Russians defeated Yugoslavia in the final by a score of 1-0. It was Saturday, December 8th. Never before and after was an Olympic gold medal presented so late in a calendar year.

While the football final at the eleventh hour remained a historic singularity, another thing became tradition. At the Melbourne closing ceremony, the athletes marched into the stadium not with their teams, but as a mixed bunch of people representing all countries, genders, religions, and colours. The idea was born by a 17 year old Chinese born student, John Ian Wing, who lived in Australia. In an anonymous letter to the International Olympic Comittee, he suggested that this march would be a powerful symbol for peace in politically turbulent times: "This march would make the Games even greater, because there will only be 1 nation." The IOC agreed - and the march became such a powerful success story that it was held up until today

While Wing earned life long praise for his idea around the globe (picture: Olympic Museum), American documentary film maker Bud Greenspan reserved the finale of his trilogy "100 Years of Olympic Glory" for the closing ceremony of Melbourne 1956. The scenes from Melbourne Cricket Ground may seem kitschy and tearjerking from today's perspective, but Wing's idea was in accordance with the spirit of the time. A time when many people still thought, sports and the Olympics could heal wounds and make the world a better place (picture: www.johnwing.co.uk).


Moments of Melbourne, Part 14 - Friday, December 7th, 1956

While Dawn Fraser had become the female national sports icon of Australia, Murray Rose followed in her footsteps 24 hours later. On the last evening of competition at Melbourne's indoor pool, the 17 year old from Sydney shattered his opponents once more, winning the grueling 1500 meters freestyle to become the youngest sportsman until this day to win three golds at one single Olympics. Before, Rose had also won the 400 meters freestyle and had been a member of Australia's successfull 4 x 200 meters freestyle relay team (picture: The Herald Sun).

Three days earlier, Rose's duel with Japan's Tsuyoshi Yamanaka in the 400 meters final had marked one of the highlights of Melbourne. After Rose had won the race in the world record time of 4.27.3 minutes, edging out Yamanaka by three seconds, he told reporters that the two had met in the Olympic Village shortly before the competition: "I said to him: Tsuyoshi Ymanaka san, I am older than you. I am twelve days older than you and I want you always to respect your elders." Even after years, Rose used to tell this anecdote with a big smile on his face (picture: Olympic). In the 1500 meters, Yamanaka again came in second behind the Australian

Wit, grit and charisma have always been trademarks of Rose, who was born in Birmingham, England. His parents left the country after the beginning of World War II when Murray was still an infant and moved to Sydney. Rose learned to swim in an enclosed saltwater pool at Double Bay.

After the Melbourne Olympics, Rose moved to Los Angeles and studied at the University of Southern California. In 1960 at Rome, he took home another gold in the 1500 meters before concentrating on his career as an actor, TV sports commentator and marketing businessman. It was years after his sporting career when Rose gave up on a special habit he used during his swimming days: He was a strict vegetarian, which earned him the nickname "The Seewead Streak".

In 1994, Murray Rose returned to Sydney, where he died from leukaemia on April 15th, 2012 (picture: Daily Telegraph).

News of the day: In swimming, Lorraine Crapp of Australia wins the women's 400 meters freestyle, while American Patricia McCormick grabs another gold in women's platform diving +++ One day after the bloody match against the USSR, Hungary gets the gold in Water Polo +++ Italian cyclist Ercole Baldini comes in first in the road race, the team competition is won by France.


Moments of Melbourne, Part 13 - Thursday, December 6th

Australia's athlete of the century, as she was later voted for, made Melbourne her Olympics at the evening of Dexember 6th, 1956. On this night, Dawn Fraser grabbed her second gold of the Games with the home country's 4 x 100 meters freestyle relay. At this time, she already had the 100 meters freestyle title in her pocket, and one day later, she added a silver in the 400 meters freestyle, finishing behind teammate Lorraine Crapp (picture: enhancentertainment.com).

For the 18 year old girl who had grown up in the modest industrial Sydney suburb of Balmain, Melbourne was the starting point of one of the most successful and colourful Olympic careers. Dawn Fraser went on to win the 100 meters freestyle and the label of fastest female swimmer in the world two more time, at the 1960 Rome and the 1964 Tokyo Games. She swam 39 world records and in 1962 became the first woman to break the one minute barrier for the 100 meters at 59.9 seconds.

But far from becoming everybody's darling in Down Under, the outspoken Fraser was going to get into the center of a storm at Tokyo in 1964. She quarelled with Australian officials and team head coach Terrence Gathercole. After her gold medal win - maybe in s state of being a little tipsy - she stole an Olympic flag from a pole in the Garden of the Imperial Palace, and was arrested for one night. When officials suspended her for ten years in 1965, her career was virtually over. Nobody seemed to remember what Dawn had gone through in the months before Tokyo: In the spring of 1964, she had a horrific car accident in which her mother died and she was severely injured. It was a real wonder how she came back so successful in such a short time.

That Fraser was a natural born fighter had become clear in the years leading up to her Olympic debut in 1956. Dawn learned swimming at Elkington Park in a pool that later was named after her. At first she was coached by her cousin, before legendary Harry Gallagher took over. Gallagher convinced her father to let Dawn live and train with him. After some hesitating, Fraser senior agreed on Dawn's 18th birthday and sparked her unbelievable run at world class swimming. At first, he and Gallagher (who also advised Australia's 100 meters freestyle champion at the 1956 Games, Jon Henricks) had agreed on a six months trial. It was to become a span of seven higly successful years (pictures: Getty, Yourmemento).

News of the day: Australian swimmer David Theile wins the men's 100 meters backstroke, while Japan's Masaru Furukawa prevails in the 200 meters breaststroke +++ In men's gymnastics, the USSR dominates the team's all-around with member Viktor Choukarine winning gold in the individual all-around. The Russians also win five of six apparatus events. Notable exceptions: German Helmut Bantz shares gold in the vault with Russia's Valentin Muratov and Japan's Takashi Ono grabs gold at the high bar +++ Russia also rules greco-roman wrestling winning five gold medals, while Finland gains two titles +++ France's Michel Rousseau wins the track cycling sprint, Italian Leandro Faggin the 1 K time trial and Australia the tandem competition +++ India's hockey team beats Pakistan 1-0 to win another field hockey gold.


Moments of Melbourne, Part 12 - Wednesday, December 5th, 1956

From today's point of view, Agnes Keleti was far too old a gymnast when she arrived in Melbourne for the 1956 Olympic Games. But these were other times, times in which even a woman at the age of 35 could claim Olympic gold. Keleti (picture: Maccabi.org) did it four times on December 5th and 7th, becoming the most successful competitor of these Games, together with her big rival, Russia's Larissa Latynina.

While Latynina prevailed in the team and individual all-around and at the vault, Keleti came out on top at the uneven bars, the beam and with Hungary's group in the apparatus event. In the floor exercise, the two best gymnasts of their time shared the gold. When the national anthems were played, they shortly held each other's hand, thus showing some piece of good sportsmanship in contrast to the political upheaval both countries were involved in (picture: Public Record Office of Victoria).

As unique as her sporting achievements in Melbourne, so was the life of Keleti. Born of Jewish ancestors, she had to hide during World War II in Nazi occupied Hungary as a christian maid. Her father was killed in Auschwitz, her mother and sister survived the war luckily. After 1945, Keleti picked up gymnastics again and made her first impression in Helsinki in 1952, winning to silvers and a bronze. In Melbourne, it was only due to her bad performance in the vault that she could not challenge Latynina for the individual all-around title.

After Melbourne Keleti, like many other Hungarian athletes, did not return back home. She got political asylum in Australia and worked as a gymnastics teacher at the Hungarian University for a short time. Then Keleti went to Munich and in 1957 to Israel. It was there were the Jewish gymnast found a new home, teaching at the Wingate Institute near Netanya - for 29 years. Until today, she is the oldest woman to ever win Olympic gymnastics gold.

News of the day: Sweden (two), New Zealand and the USA win gold medals in yachting.  The fifth Olympic title goes to Denmark's Paul Elvstroem in th Finn Dinghy class. It is his third win in a row +++ Hungary's Rudolf Karpati earns the last fencing gold of the Games in the men's individual sabre event +++ Judith Grinham of Great Britain is the fastest female 100 meters backstroke swimmer +++ Mexican Joaquin Capila prevails in the men's platform diving +++ Romania's Stefan Petrescu wins gold in rapid-fire pistol shooting, while Canadian Gerald Ouellette scores a perfect 600 points to win the short-calibre rifle competition in the lying position.


Moments of Melbourne, Part 11 - Tuesday, December 4th, 1956

Of the145 gold medal winners at the 1956 Melbourne Summer Games, Anatoli Bogdanov was probably the most mysterious. This was not due to his sporting achievements - in fact, on December 4th, the Russian defended his title in the most prestigious and difficult shooting competition, the three prone competition with the short calibre rifle. The aura of suspense surrounded his early life, which lies in the dark (picture: Backyard Safari).

Officially, Bogdanov was born on January 1st, 1932, which is probably wrong. In 1935, a few old women found a three year old boy in a train waggon between Gatchina and Leningrad, together with a sheet of paper with his name and date of birth. It was the time shortly after the great hunger wave in the USSR. The women brought Anatoli to the infant collection base on Leningrad's Kirov Prospect. From there, he came to a Leningrad orphanage.

Unlike many other successful shooters, Bogdanov did not learn his sport at the military. He took part in World War II as a teenage ship clerk with the Baltic Navy, but did not come into contact with sports weapons until 1947, when he attended a technical high school in Leningrad and had lots of time to train.

Bogdanov's win at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics at an age of merely 20 years - defeating Switzerland's Robert Buerchler and fellow Russian Lev Vainshtein - was a sensation. Additionally, Bogdanov scored an Olympic record of 1123 points. When he came to Melbourne, he was the favourite for the gold and delivered with 1138 points, outscoring his countryman Allan Erdmann by a single point (picture: Backyard Safari).

Although Bogdanov called it a career as early as 1958 in order to start studying philosophy, he remained well present in the scene. He published a lot of articles and books about shooting technique and training methods, even in western papers. "The basis for good results is permanent and systematic training," Bogdavon wrote in the German paper Sport und Technik in 1954. On the following four pages, he detailled what he meant by this.

As obscure as his childhood were the last years of Bogdanov's life. He was an instructor at the military high school in Moscow, but after that, it was said he tried to make some money as a night clerk. He died in 2001.

News of the day: Australia's swimmer Murray Rose wins his first gold in the 400 meters freestly +++ Vitali Romanenko of the USSR is best in the running deer shooting competition +++ The first cycling gold of the Games goes to Italy in the 4000 meters team pursuit.


Moments of Melbourne, Part 10 - Monday, December 3rd, 1956

Long before Greg Louganis became the most famous diver of all time, a young woman from California had achieved the very accomplishment as the legend. When she came to Melbourne, Patricia McCormick (26) had already cashed in two gold medals at the 1952 Helsinki Games (see film below). On December 3rd, 1956, she started her attempt to repeat the double - which she finally did successfully (picture: Team USA).

Already as a child, McCormick (called "Patsy Pest" by friends) was a daredevil of a diver, trying jumps considered to risky even for men and not allowed in female competitions. The Seal Beach, California native liked to show off her skills from Los Alamitos Bridge in Long Beach. "We loved to jump just before the boat passed under the bridge and we’d just splash them," she remembered.

Still, Olympic success did not come easily for McCormick. She missed the 1948 London Games by a margin of two points at the trials, which made her work even harder. In Helsinki, she was by far the best diver in the world and won both the springboard and the platform event. Back home in the States, the golden girl earned additional notoriety for putting the underwear of U,S, Olympic Comittee president Avery Brundage up on a flag pole.

Four years later (and five months after the birth of her first son), she again won relatively easy from the three meters springboard. But in the platform final, McCormick was only in fourth position with one dive to go. Climbing up the ten meters tower for her final dive, she remembered a friend's advice: "You can live a lifetime in a moment." Moments later, McCormick nailed a perfect one and a half summersault with a full twist that earned her her fourth Olympic gold (picture: China Daily).

Melbourne made the perfect glamour girl of Pat: She later worked as a model for California swimsuits, appeared on the CBS TV show "To Tell the Truth", had her own talent search foundation "Pat's Champs" and served on the organizing comittee for the 1984 Los Angeles Games. It was at these Games that Louganis's star began to shine - and that of another McCormick: Pat's daughter Kelly won a silver in springboard diving.

Patricia McCormick, who in 1965 became one of the first members of the International Swimming Hall of Fame, still lives under the California sun.

News of the day: Australia's swimmers win the 4 x 200 meters freestyle relay ahead of the USA +++ Once again, the fencers from Hungary grab the gold in the men's sabre team event.


Moments of Melbourne, Part 9 - Saturday, December 1st, 1956

Whenever Hungarian athletes competed at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, it was a highly emotional affair. The bloody ending to the revolution in their home country, caused by the invasion of Soviet tanks, earned them sympathy around the world and also in Down Under. For the Hungarian athletes in Australia, the main topic (besides competition) was the question whether to go home after the end of the Games or to emigrate to the west.

One of the most famous athletes who would finally go home again, was legendary Laszlo Papp. He made history on December 1st by becoming the first boxer to win gold at three consecutive Olympics (picture: Sportschau).

Many Hungarian team mates gathered around the ring when Papp took on American future world champion Jose Torres for his light middleweight gold medal bout - and the 30 year old veteran did not disappoint them. Although Torres gave him a hard time (picture:ORF), Papp kept his unbeaten record thanks to a split 2-1 decision by the judges. Papp had dominated this weight class four years ealier in Helsinki - after he had become middleweight champion at the first post-war Games in 1948 at London

Boxing had not been on Papp's mind all his life. As a little boy, he tried many different sports. When he took up boxing, some experts thought his hands were too small and fragile. With superb technique and strategy, Papp proved all skeptics wrong, winning not only three Olympic gold medals, but also two European championships.

The re-established communist regime of Janos Kadar rewarded Papp's return to Budapest with the allowance to become a professional. "I fight for money, but I am not greedy. How many steaks can one man eat?", he remarked ironically In 27 professional bouts, Papp - who lived in Vienna and got an Austrian boxing license - remained unbeaten and became European middleweight champion. But when he had a chance to box for the world championship in the Unted States, promotors did not want a "communist champion". The government's allowance was subsequently withdrawn.

Papp retired and became a renowned coach of many young Hungarian boxing hopfuls. He died in 2003. Some of the team mates who watched his final amateur bout in Melbourne on December 1st, 1956, Laszlo Papp has never met again (picture: Boxrec).

News of the day: Bantam weight boxer Wolfgang Behrendt from Berlin wins the first ever Olympic title for the German Democratic Republic (as a member of the unified German team) +++ Further Boxing gold medals go to the USSR (three), the USA and Great Britain (two each) and Romania +++ In freestyle wrestling, Turkey and Iran both grab two golds +++ On the last day of athletics, France's Alain Mimoun wins the marathon, defeating his life-long nemesis Emil Zatopek (Czechoslovakia/sixth place) +++ The USA wins both men's relays, Australia the women's sprint relay +++ Ireland's Ron Delaney surprisingly prevails in the men's 1500 meters, while Mildred McDaniel (USA) wins the women's high jump +++ Led by future NBA star Bill Russel, the US team grabs another basketball crown +++ In shooting, Wassili Borissov (USSR) wins the free rifle competition and Italy's Galliano Rossini the litter pigeons +++ Swimmer Bill Yorzik (USA) becomes the 200 meters butterfly champion, while Australia's Dawn Fraser is fastest in the women's 100 meters freestyle +++ Bob Clotworthy wins another springboard diving gold for the USA +++ In canoeing's 1000 meters finals, the gold medals are won by Romania (two), Sweden and Germany, Russia's Jelisaveta Dementijeva wins the women's 500 meters K1.

Notice: On December 2nd, 1956, no competitions were held due to Sunday sports restrictions. Our next post comes to you on December 3rd.


Moments of Melbourne, Part 8 - Friday, November 30th, 1956

A Harvard analyst named Gert Fredriksson the second most dominant Olympian of all time, second only to American jumper Ray C. Ewry, but still ahead of Carl Lewis and Michael Phelps. The Swedish flatwater canoe racer won six of eight Olympic finals in his long career and added one silver and one bronze medal each. From 1948 to 1960, Fedriksson (picture: Sportschau) became a legend on the water. When he won the K1 10,000 meters on Lake Wendouree on November 30th, 1956, it happened nine days after his 37th birthday.

Had it not been for Fredriksson's endurance and discipline, maybe World War II would have prevented him from winning any Olympic gold, like it did to his famous compatriot, runner Gunder Haegg. The fire fighter from Nykoeping had started canoeing in 1937 and was at world class level in the 1940s, losing only one race between 1943 and 1948. When the 1948 London Olympics came around, he was already 29 years old. His triumph in the K1 10,000 meters race on the River Thames came at a margin of 30.5 seconds - the largest ever in an Olympic final.

Fredriksson contined to dominate this way at Helsinki in 1952, Melbourne, and Rome in 1960. In Down Under, his preparation had been hampered by injuries, but he still won both the 10,000 and the 1000 meters. In the former event, he outraced Hungary's Ferenc Hatlaczki by almost ten seconds. His opponent was 15 years younger than Fredriksson.

The super athlete collected honours as well as medals. In 1956, he became one of only 15 athletes to be awarded the Mohammed Taher Trophy by the International Olympic Comittee. In 1949, he had already cashed in the "Svenska Dagbladet gold medal". Fredriksson died in the summer of 2006 after a long battle with cancer in his hometown of Nykoeping, which had honoured him with a statue during his lifetime (picture: 4-bp-blogspot).

News of the day: The other 10,000 meters finals in canoeing are won by the USSR, Hungary, and Romania +++ In track and field, Betty Cuthbert from Australia wins her second gold in the 200 meters, while Soviet shot putter Tamara Tyshkevitsh also earns highest honours +++ Milton Campbell (USA) becomes "king of athletes" by winning the decathlon +++ Pentti Linnosvuo from Finland wins the first shooting gold of Melbourne with the free pistol +++ In fencing, the individual epee contest is won by Italy's Carlo Pavesi +++ Swimming kicks off with two medal decisions: Australian John Henricks wins the men's 100 meters freestyle, Germany's Ursula Happe the women's 200 meters breaststroke.


Moments of Melbourne, Part 7 - Thursday, November 29th, 1956

It took Christopher Brasher 8 minutes and 41.2 seconds to finish first in the Olympic 3000 meters steeplechase finals. But to get to the top of the podium, he had to endure more than three hours of waiting. The dramatic race on the afternoon of November 29th, 1956, at Melbourne Cricket Ground was surrounded by controversy and had long repercussions.

On the first view, everything seemed crystal clear: Brasher, not a steeplechase specialist, had edged out Hungary's European champion and world record holder Sandor Rozsnoyi on the home stretch to capture a surprising gold. But suddenly Brasher was disqualified, allegedly for having interferred with Norway's bronze medal winner Ernst Larsen at the beginning of the final lap. But when Larsen declared, in a great showing of sportsmanship, that Brasher had touched him, but without hindering his running, Brasher was reinstated. He celebrated this with a “liquid lunch“ with some journalists and stood on top of the podium, as he confessed later, “blind drunk, totally blotto”.

The film of the scene (courtesy of onlinefootage.tv) cannot clarify what happened without a doubt, but after long discussions, the result stood (picture: Getty).

For Brasher, the gold medal was the climax of a colourful life and athletics career. Born in British Guyana in 1928, he had lived in Jerusalem for some time, before returning to merry old England and attending the famous Rugby and St. John's College in Cambridge. He picked up track and field in 1950. Until the Melbourne Games, his most notorious achievement had been his support as a pacemaker for Roger Bannister when he broke the four-minute barrier in the mile race in 1954.

After Melbourne, Brasher immediately retired, but was still an omnipresent figure in the athletics scene until his death in 2003. "Bloody" Brasher worked as a journalist for The Observer and the BBC. In the 1980s, he became one of the founding fathers of the London marathon (picture: IAAF).

News of the day: Charles Jenkins (USA) wins the 400 meters ahead of Germany's Karl-Friedrich Haas. +++ Another surprising gold medal for Great Britain is fencer Gillian Sheen's triumph in the women's foil event.


Moments of Melbourne, Part 6 - Wednesday, November 28th, 1956

Almost nobody noticed, but Olympic history was made on this cloudy Wednesday, November 28th, 1956, at Oaklands Hunt Club in the north of Melbourne. When Lars Hall crossed the finish line of the cross-country run, the last part of the modern pentathlon, the carpenter from Karlskrona had achieved something nobody had done before him. He had defended the Olympic crown in the most versatile sport imaginable (picture: Getty).

Hall had taken up the complicated modern pentathlon in 1947 while he was at service in the Swedish navy. He was a good rider, swimmer, and an excellent fencer, but ironically had his problems at shooting. In 1950 and 1951, Hall became world champion and was one of the favourites for the 1952 Helsinki Olympics. In Finland, he won the gold mainly because he was the best in equestrian and swimming. As he had left the navy before, he was the first pentathlete to win the title without being an officer or in the military at all.

Four years later on the outskirts of Melbourne, many things had changed. First and foremost, in 1954 a new points system had been established, which replaced the old formula where the rankings of each event were added up. What had not changed, was Halls supremacy. The title holder, now 29 years old, started of with a fine fourth place in riding, had his usual problems with the pistol, shooting only 181 out of 200 points possible, but followed suit with a personal best in swimming. After a hell of a cross-country run, Hall had collected 4883 points, edging out the Finns Olavi Mannonen and Vaino Korhonen for his second gold (picture: China Daily).

For his achievement, Hall was awarded the "Svenska Dagbladet gold medal" for 1956, together with cross-country skier Sixten Jernberg - a kind of Sportsman of the Year award and an honour normally reserved for Sweden's winter sports heroes. Hall died in 1991 in Taeby (picture: Collnect).

News of the day: In athletics, Vladimir Kuts of the USSR wins his second gold in the 5000 meters. His countryman Leonid Spirine is the fastest race walker in the 20 km event. +++ American Lee Calhoun prevails in the 110 meters hurdles, while his US teammate Parry O'Brien defends his title in the shot put. +++ Also an encore after gold in Helsinki in 1952: Australia's Shirley Strickland de la Hunty grabs the 80 meters hurdles gold. +++ Best female javelin thrower is Inese Jaunzeme from the USSR. +++ Italy's fencers win the men's epee team competition.


Moments of Melbourne, Part 5 - Tuesday, November 27th, 1956

Long before Pertti Karppinen and Mahe Drysdale, there was another dominator of the single sculls rowing scene. He came from Moscow and started his unprecedented career on November 27th, 1956, on the picturesque Lake Wendouree in Ballarat, 100 kilometers to the west of Melbourne. On this day, Vyacheslav Ivanov (picture: Wikipedia) won the first of his three consecutive Olympic gold medals.

In the summer before the Games, at the age of merely 18 years, Ivanov had one the Soviet trials and edged 1952 Olympic champion Yuri Tjukalov for the berth at the Olympic regatta. As Karppinen in the 1970s and 1980s, Ivanovs best weapon was his devastating finishing sprint.

So the final in Melbourne developed in the same way as many Ivanov races later: He trailed by the 1500 meters mark as dead last of the four finalusts, but then he catched one after the other: first Poland's Teodor Kocerka, then Grace Kelly's brother and American Olympic rowing legend John B. Kelly jr, whose father had won the event in 1920. And finally Australian Stuart Mackenzie, who went on to win the Diamond Sculls at Henley six times (picture: 3ba). With only 100 meters to go, Mackenzie suddenly stopped in the wrong assumption the race was over - and Ivanov powered by him.

Ivanov made this tactics his trademark strategy, and it paid off two more times, in the Olympic finals at the 1960 Rome and the 1964 Tokyo games. At both occasions, East German Achim Hill fell victim to Ivanov's sprint - like West Germany's Peter-Michael Kolbe later fell to Karppinen twice, in 1976 and 1984.

Ivanov, who later worked as a navy officer, was so overcome with joy and excitement, that he threw his freshly gained medal into the air and it flipped into Lake Wendouree. The IOC gave him a replacement.

The three time Olympic single sculls champion was a sports multi-talent: Ivanov also excelled in nordic skiing, wrestling, boxing, football, and volleyball. He was a heavy smoker his whole life and had a simple explanation for it: His grandfather had done so and died at age 106. Ivanov is now 78 years old, so he has still a long way to go in this race.

News of the day: The USA dominate the rest of the rowing finals, winning three gold medals, including the coxed eight. The USSR, Canada, and Italy win the other races. +++ In track and field, Bobby Morrow (USA) earns his second gold in the 200 meters. +++ While Brazil's Adhemar da Silva defends his triple jump title, Al Oerter from the USA starts his incredible Olympic career with the first of his four consecutive wins in the discus throw. +++ Poland's Elizabete Krzesinka wins the women's long jump.


Moments of Melbourne, Part 4 - Monday, November 26th, 1956

Blonde hair, a wild stride with highly lifted knees, and - most of all - a wide open mouth. These were the trademarks of the biggest female star of the Melbourne Olympics. On Monday, November 26th, Betty Curhbert took home the first of her three gold medals in the sprint - at the age of just 18 (pictures: The Australian, The Famous People).

The Australian fans had had high expectations for the women's track events, but they did not really have the "Golden  Girl" from Sydney on their minds. Shirley de la Hunty was expected to be the star of the Games. She indeed defended her title in the 80 meters hurdles, but before that, she had bowed out in the heats of the 100 meters dash. It was a shocking moment for hometown fans, all the more as Cuthbert was considered to be a 200 meters specialist. In this event, she had set a new world record at 23.2 seconds two months before the Games.

But with Strickland sidelined, Cuthbert rose to the occasion, holding off East Germany's Christa Stubnick and teammate Marlene Matthews to capture the gold. Three days later in the 200, the outcome was the same. When Cuthbert anchored her team's relay team to the gold, her status as a natonal heroine was secured. All of her running with that typically wide opened mouth, about which Cuthbert used to say: "Everything I did that required effort, I opened my mouth. Even to catch a ball, I opened my mouth."

The hype that followed was a little to much for a shy and slightly build 18 year old. Cuthbert indeed had no easy time in the years to follow. Hampered by a hamstring injury, she was eliminated in the heas at the 1960 Rome Olympics and retired. Two years later, Cuthbert had a terific comeback, winning the Commonwealth title in the 400 meters. At the same distance, she crowned her career with a fourth Olympic gold in 1964 at the Tokyo Games (picture: ABC).

A fighter that she had been on the track, Cuthbert also was in her later life. In 1974, she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis that forced her into a wheelchair. But that did not prevent her from carrying the Olympic torch into Stadium Australia at the opening ceremony of the 2000 Sydney Games, showing off her trademark optimism and perseverance. It was one of many memorable moments of the Millennium Olympics (picture: The Australian).

News of the day: Bob Richards (USA) defends his pole vault title, Tom Courteney (USA) gets the 800 meters gold. +++ Norway's Eigil Daniels wins the javelin throw with a new world record of 85.71 meters. +++ The USA and the USSR continue there weightlifting domination: Tommy Kono (USA/Light heavyweight), Arkadi Vorobiov (USSR/Middle heavyweight), and the "Tennessee Titan" Paul Anderson (USA/Heavyweight) win the last three golds. +++ Fencer Christian d'Oriola of France repeats his win in the individual foil competition.


Moments of Melbourne, Part 3 - Saturday, November 24th, 1956

The story of a hammer thrower winning Olympic gold with a crippled arm would have been enough to make tabloid headlines. But there was even more to the triumph of Harold Connolly at Melbourne. Love was in the air - a love that was stronger than Cold War borders.

When Harold Connolly won the gold on the afternoon of Saturday, November 24th, 1956, he did so against all odds. Following several childhood injuries, his right arm was nine centimeters shorter than his left, preventing Connolly from becoming a professional boxer as he had hoped for. But the handicap raised his fighting spirit: "I was a handicapped person who knows the agony of all-out trying and not accomplishing. They didn’t treat the disabled with dignity then. I couldn’t stand to be treated differently."

Instead, the man from Massachussets turned to hammer throwing. In his career, he broke the world record six times and in 1960 became the first man to throw the hammer over the 70 meters line. In Melbourne, he defeated the Soviet favourites Mikhail Krivonossov and Anatoli Samozvetov with a throw of 63.19 meters (picture: hmmrmedia).

But Connolly had more than gold on his mind.

In the week before the Games, he had met Czech discus thrower Olga Fikotová in the Olympic village. Fikotová won the gold 24 hours before Connolly's triumph. They fell in love immediately, accompanied by a lot of fanfare in the western media. The fact that the couple-to-be lived on different sides of the Iron Curtain added to the drama. Three months after the Olympics, Connolly proposed to Fikotová in Prague. After the Czech president had given his permission, they married in October 1957 with 30,000 well-whishers looking on (pictures: UCI/Getty).

"The H-bomb overhangs us like a cloud of doom. The subway during rush hours is almost impossible to endure," The New York Times wrote on the day after their marriage. "But Olga and Harold are in love, and the world does not say no to them." From then on, the Connollys were regular guests in American TV and papers and had a son. But the honeymoon did not last forever. The marriage was divorced in 1974. What remained were two Olympic gold medals and the feel-good story of Melbourne. Connolly, who in 1983 had admitted the use of anabolic steroid during his athletic career, died in August 2010, aged 79.

News of the day: Bobby Morrow (USA) becomes the fastest man on earth, winning the 100 meters dash ahead of fellow American Thane Baker and Australia's Hector Hogan +++ Further athletics gold go to Glenn Davis (USA) in the 400 meters hurdles, Norman Read (New Zealand) in the 50 km race walk, and Greg Bell (USA) in the long jump. +++ The first two golds for the USSR are won by weightlifters Igor Rybak (Light weight) and Fiodor Bogdanovski (Middle weight).

Notice: On November 25th, 1956, no competitions were held due to Sunday sports restrictions. Our next post comes to you on November 26th.


Moments of Melbourne, Part 2 - Friday, Novermber 23rd, 1956

It had been labelled as one of the great duels of the Games and so it was. On the early evening of Friday, November 23rd, Soviet runner Vladimir Kuts and Great Britain's Gordon Pirie squared off in the 10,000 meters final and delivered a race for the ages. In the end, Kuts took home the gold with Pirie finishing merely eighth - but the duel had been much closer as the result seemed to indicate (picture: racingpast.ca).

Kuts had won the 5000 meters at the 1954 European Championships in Berne, Switzerland, spoiling the anticipated showdown between Emil Zatopek bad Christopher Chataway. Pirie had clocked a new 10,000 meters world record in Bergen, Norway in the summer before the Melbourne Games. With Hungary's Sandor Iharos out after the revolution back home, the stage was set for Kuts versus Pirie.

As expected, the race - starting at 6:00 PM on the sandy track at Melbourne Cricket Ground - became the classical encounter between a frontrunner and a finisher. Kuts led from the beginning, trying to destroy his opponents with continuing intervals of acceleration and slowing down, while Pirie followed in his footsteps. This continued for 21 of the 25 laps, until both runners had virtually run out of gas, which even Kuts admitted later. But the 29 year old navy officer from the Ukraine had one last sprint left in his tank. While Kuts raced to gold seven seconds ahead of Hungary's Jozsef Kovacs and Allan Lawrence of Australia, Pirie dropped back to a disappointing eighth place.

"He murdered me - that's all there was to it", Pirie later told the home press, who put him under crossfire. Meanwhile, Kuts sent his coach Grigorij Nikiforov to talk the media, while giving an exclusive interview to his wife Raissa, who worked as a journalist. The man who was often criticized as a "race robot" and was later even connected to doping allegations by the flamboyant Pirie, was in fact no one-dimensional race horse, but a great tactician with unprecedented stamina. Kuts proved all his critics wrong five days later when he also won the 5000 meters. In this race, Pirie finished second.

News of the day: Charles Dumas (USA) grabs the gold in the men's high jump, while Czech Olga Fikotová wins the women's discus throw +++ Americans Charles Vinci (bantam weight) and Isaac Berger (feather weight) earn the first two golds in weightlifting +++ The fencing team from Italy becomes Olympic champion with the men's foil.