The Melbourne 1956 Games was the first time Australia hosted the Olympics. In many ways, it was the Games that took the Olympics to the world. It was the first Games held outside of Europe or the United States, the first Games held in the southern hemisphere, the first Games where live television broadcasts captured the public’s imagination, and the first Games in which all the athletes walked together as one in the Closing Ceremony. This change to procedure had been suggested to organisers by an Australian schoolboy, John Ian Wing, and remains a much-loved tradition of togetherness and friendship.
The Melbourne Olympics also heralded the arrival of Australia as a real sporting force at the Olympics, with stars such as swimmers Dawn Fraser and Murray Rose and sprinters Betty Cuthbert and Shirley Strickland helping Australia rise to third on the medal table.
Only the Soviet Union (37 gold) and the United States (32 gold) beat Australia’s 13 gold medals. Notably, Melbourne was the first time the Soviet Union led the medal table. The stars of the Soviet team included distance runner Vladimir Kuts, who won the 5000m and 10,000m double. Watching Kuts in the stands was a young Australian named Herb Elliott, who was so inspired by the record-breaking runs he became determined to one day make his own name on the track. Another young Australian runner later to emerge as an idol, Ron Clarke, had the honour of lighting the Olympic flame.
Other heroes to emerge in Melbourne included Hungarian Laszlo Papp, who became the first man to win three successive boxing gold medals. Hungary also won its second successive water polo gold medal, but not before a bitter and bloody match with the Soviet Union, which had invaded Hungary only weeks earlier. With far more grace, Soviet gymnast Larissa Latynina made her Olympic debut. She won three gold and two silver medals, including the all-around event. Latynina would retire after the 1964 Games with a record total of gold medals and overall medals. Another record breaker was American diver Patricia McCormick, who repeated her double gold medal performance from 1952 by winning both the springboard and platform events.
In total, 67 nations participated in Melbourne’s Games.