Winter Games
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History of the Olympic Games
 

1956

Site: Melbourne, Australia
Dates: November 22 - December 8
Nations: 67 Nations
Total Athletes: 3,342
Sports: 17

For the first time in Olympic history, the Games went "down under" to Melbourne, Australia, which edged out Buenos Aires, Argentina by just one vote. It was not received well and even new IOC president Avery Brundage felt it was a big mistake.

The Games would present organization and financial difficulties because of the location and distance. The Australian bid committed had failed to inform the IOC of their government's unwillingness to bend stringent equine quarantine rules. As a result, the IOC was forced to separate the equestrian events to Stockholm, Sweden.

The timeliness of the Games could not be worse for the Aussies. Leading up to the opening ceremonies, Egypt, Iraq and Lebanon sent in their cancellation notices if Israel, which had taken over the Suez Canal, participated. Spain, Holland and Switzerland sent in their notices in protest of the Soviet Union's invasion of Hungary. Ironically, both the Soviet Union and Holland sent full teams. If that wasn't bad enough, the Republic of China indicated they were backing out because of the IOC's recognition of Taiwan.

The IOC received a black eye of sorts when a brawl broke out between Russia and Hungary during a water polo match. The Hungarians won the match 4-0 and ultimately the gold medal. The Swiss official terminated the match prematurely, calling it a "boxing match under water." The majority of the spectators were heavily in favor of Hungary and as a result the Australian riot police had to escort the Russians from the pool.

The Games also marked several "firsts" for some countries: Norway captured its first gold medal in track and field as Egil Danielson won the javelin toss in a world-record throw. Iceland garnered its first Olympic medal on the back of Vilhjalmur Einarsson's silver medal in the triple jump.

Other heroes of the Games were American Al Oerter, who would emerge from the Games with the first of four consecutive gold medals in the discus. U.S. sprinter Bobby Mitchell captured gold medals in the 100, 200 and 4 x 100 relay, while Aussie Betty Cuthbert took the gold in the same events. Soviet long- distance runner Vladimir Kuts won the 5,000 and 10,000-meter double, while U.S. swimmer Pat McCormick captured the double gold in platform and springboard.

Hungarians were the obvious underdogs and certainly the sentimental favorites of the spectators. The elder statesman and Olympic Boxing champion Laszlo Papp won his third career gold medal with a middleweight victory over Jose Torres of the United States. The feat was even more impressive when a short time later, Torres went on to become the light heavyweight champion of the world.

However, the biggest upset of the Games came in the marathon when 36-year old Czech Alain Mimoun, a silver winner in both the 1948 and 1952 Olympics, finally got his gold, besting his personal nemesis Emil Zatopek. Mimoun was relegated to second-place finishes behind folk hero Zatopek. How ironic it was to have Mimoun greet a cramped up Zatopek.

The hosts did not fare too well throughout much of the Games. The Aussies, who relished their opportunities in the water, saved swimming for the final events. They captured 14 total medals, eight gold, four silver and two bronze, besting all other nations. Dawn Fraser led the Aussie contingent by setting the world record in the 100-meter freestyle final.

The best side story of the Olympics was the romantic relationship between U.S. hammer thrower Harold Connolly and Czech discus thrower Olga Fikotova. The two met on the practice field, won gold medals in their respective sports, married and moved to California.

It would also be the first time in Olympic history that athletes would enter the stadium for closing ceremonies in a cluster with athletes mingling with one another rather than the tradition of entering under the country flag. A 17- year-old Taiwanese athlete, who thought the display would show a wave of unity, presented the idea.


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