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.