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Historial Vignette - Lawrence Morgan dual gold medallist and AFL Champion

1 June 2006

Laurie Morgan, the winner of two gold medals in equestrian at the 1960 Rome Olympic Games also played 34 games for Fitzroy in the Victorian Football League (VFL) in the years 1937-39.

Hence, he is the only VFL/AFL footballer to have won a gold medal at the Olympics.

Except when pursuing his sporting interests in Melbourne and in England, Morgan was a bushie for all of his life, living in various locations in country Victoria and New South Wales. Being brought up on a farm he became proficient on horseback at a very early age and commenced winning prizes at country shows whilst still a small boy. Over the years he also developed into a champion in boxing, polo and rowing.

It was his footballing talent that took him from the rough and tumble of country football to Melbourne where he made a name for himself as a good team player and protector of the smaller players in his team.

Rome saw Morgan and his team-mates, Neale Lavis and Bill Roycroft, start forging the tradition of Australian excellence in the three-day event at the Olympic Games.

Morgan won the individual gold medal and Neale Lavis won the silver medal.

The three-day event is a complete test for horse and rider. The dressage competition is on the first day followed by the cross-country ride, or endurance event, with the show jumping on the final day. After the cross-country Australia had four riders well placed to press on for the team gold medal the next day. To be a contender in the team event three riders must finish all three disciplines.

Morgan and Lavis, and their horses, were well placed with the leading riders, with Brian Crago up there with them. Bill Roycroft was sitting in the middle of the field after a nasty fall during the cross-country, but remounted and finished the course.

Alas, Crago’s horse was injured and could not continue and whilst Roycroft’s horse was fine he himself was in a Rome hospital with concussion and severe bruising of his ribs and collarbone as a result of his fall.

The cross-country course has been described by David Wallechinsky in his The Complete Book of the Olympics as “unnecessarily dangerous, and two horses were killed”. Less than half the hoses that started the cross-country were fit enough to continue on to the show jumping.

It is now Australian sporting legend how Roycroft discharged himself from hospital to ride and complete the show jumping, to enable three Australian riders to finish the event and thus qualify the team for the gold medal.

Harry Gordon in Australia and the Olympic Games describes the achievements of Morgan and company in Rome: “..... three horsemen from the outback gave Australia a new kind of Olympic glory: a kind that in another age might have been celebrated in galloping verse by a Banjo Patterson. They came from farms to do combat with cavalry officers and fox-hunters, people who had learnt their skills in formal riding schools rather than in lonely paddocks, and they brought with them horses that had been bred in the bush .....”

After Rome, Morgan did not compete in the Olympics again. Roycroft went on to compete in four more Olympics, winning team bronze medals in the three-day event in 1968 (Mexico City) and 1976 (Montreal).

Morgan spent some time in England where he won the three-day event at the famous Badminton Horse Trials and rode with success on the amateur steeplechase and jumping circuit.

Back in Australia Morgan returned to the bush as a grazier and became a successful breeder of racehorses. He was 82 years old when he died in 1997.

Bernadette Faurie and Chris Hector have exemplified the achievements of Laurie Morgan in their book Eventing Down Under - The Aussie & Kiwi Secret of Success:

“This book is respectfully dedicated to Australia’s first individual Olympic eventing gold medallist, Laurie Morgan. Laurie Morgan was the complete sportsman: rower, boxer, footballer, polo player, steeplechase trainer and rider, breeder of fine racehorses, bon vivant and yarn teller. We will not see his like again...but hopefully the spirit lingers.”

Bruce Coe
Olympic Historian