Sunday, July 15, 2012

Olympics :Brief History of the Modern Games - 1956 Melbourne

The 1956 Games of the XVI Olympiad, was held in Melbourne, Australia. This was the first time they were held outside Europe and North America. Although not the first Games to be televised the Melbourne Games did receive global exposure through the small screen.

Due to quarantine equestrian events could not be held in Australia and were held five months earlier in Stockholm, Sweden.

The 1956 Olympic Games was officially opened by Prince Philip. The Olympic Flame was lit at Olympia in Greece and carried by Greek runners to Athens where it was then transferred to a miner's lamp and flown by Qantas to Darwin in the Northern Territory. From there, a Royal Australian Air Force jet bomber flew it to Cairns, Queensland. The first runner in Australia was Con Verevis, who was of Greek parentage, and then relayed down the east coast using die cast aluminum torches. The Olympic Flame was lit by Ron Clarke (unknown 19 year old who later became the world's finest distance runner) and burnt his forearm while reaching in to light the flame.

During the Sydney leg of the journey, the Mayor of Sydney was fooled when he accepted a fake torch from prankster Barry Larkin. The fake torch was a wooden chair leg that had been painted silver and a plum pudding can at the top. In irreverent style the students used a pair of underpants, soaked in kerosene, to start their flame. The mayor did not realize the torch was fraudulent and was overcome by the moment. He had already started his speech before he knew he had been duped by which time Larkin had merged into the crowd and escaped.

The Olympic Oath was led by John Landy.

Dubbed the Friendly Games, the Melbourne Games were not without controversy and compounded by bickering over financing among Australian politicians. The Premier of Victoria refused to allocate money for the Olympic Village, and the country's Prime Minister barred the use of federal funds. The Olympic Village was eventually built in the Melbourne suburb of Heidelberg. It took two years to build and cost the Government 2 million pounds. Seven hundred and eighty brick and concrete houses were built to provide accommodation for over 6000 athletes and officials. The Olympic Park Stadium was built as a training site for the 1956 Games. It had room for almost 20,000 spectators. The stadium had a new athletics track and a soccer pitch. The Games were held at different places in or around Melbourne. The opening and closing ceremonies were held at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (M.C.G). The track and field events, the hockey finals and soccer finals were also held there.

The Games were further complicated when Egypt, Iraq, and Lebanon refused participation on protest to the Suez Crisis. Netherlands, Spain, and Switzerland also withdrew in protest after the Hungarian Revolution was crushed by the Soviet Union earlier in the year. Both USSR and Hungary sent representatives to the Games. Finally the People's Republic of China boycotted the event because the Republic of China had been allowed to compete under the name "Formosa". In all 67 countries took part with 3,342 participants.

In fencing, the electric foil was introduced and in swimming, the semi-automatic, digital-display timing device was used for the first time.

The Japanese swimming team wore ceremonial getas (platform sandals) on their way to compete at the pool. The sight of which caught viewers imagination and led directly to the popularity of flip flops (thongs in VZ and Australia).

When Eastern Block athletes were seen wearing brightly coloured shoes between events these ‘trainers’ too became popular fashion items after the games.

Bantom weight, weight lifter, Charles Vinci (US) discovered he was half a pound over weight minutes before the weigh- in. He calmly cut his hair and scraped the hard skin from under his feet, met the weight and went on to win gold.

Teenager John Lan Wing broke with tradition at the end of the Games and instead of parading with his fellow countrymen he joined his fellow sportsmen as a symbol of world unity. The Olympic organizers recognized the benefits of the gesture and closing ceremonies have remained the same way since 1956.

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