Rome delighted in revealing its own ancient glories as the world watched the 1960 Olympics unfold. Events were held in famous historical sites such as the Baths of Caracalla. The marathon course snaked through the colourful streets of the Italian capital before ending on the Appian Way rather than in the newly-built Olympic Stadium. The winner of the marathon was Ethiopian Abebe Bikila, who ran the whole race in bare feet. His famous victory signalled the arrival of the great African distance runners who now dominate many Olympic events.
More than 5000 athletes from 83 nations competed in Rome, with 44 nations winning medals. For the second successive Games, the Soviet Union topped the medal table with 43 gold. Its fierce rival, the United States, was second on the medal table, with Australia an excellent fifth. Australian gold medallists such as Herb Elliott in the men’s 1500m and swimmers Dawn Fraser and Murray Rose were among the most revered athletes competing.
Australia at these Games
After the glories of Melbourne, Australia sent a confident team of 214 athletes, 184 men and 30 women, to Rome, its biggest team ever for an overseas Games. The team did not disappoint, finishing an impressive fifth on the medal table with eight gold, eight silver and six bronze medals.
The Rome Olympics provided two of the most storied performances ever by Australians at the Games. On the track, Perth’s Herb Elliott won the 1500m gold medal in world record time to crown his tremendous career, decimating the field to win by almost 20 metres. Elliott would retire soon after the Games having won 44 consecutive races over 1500m or a mile. In equestrian’s three-day team event, the trio of Neale Lavis, Laurie Morgan and Bill Roycroft won the gold medal. However, it took some heroics from Roycroft to secure the win. After a bad fall on his mount Our Solo in the cross-country phase, Roycroft checked himself out of hospital the next day to ride in the final showjumping round, sealing Australia’s win. The unlucky horseman of Rome was Brian Crago, who had been part of Australia’s first equestrian team in 1956. His mount Sabre had to retire from the team event, meaning Crago was not credited as part of Australia’s gold medal team. Adding to Australia’s equestrian triumph was Morgan’s win in the three-day individual event, with Lavis the silver medallist.
Again, the swimming pool was where Australia made its greatest mark. Aussie swimmers won 13 medals - five gold, five silver and three bronze. Like in Melbourne four years earlier, Dawn Fraser and Murray Rose both won gold medals. Fraser won her second successive 100m freestyle crown, as well as silver medals in the 4x100m freestyle and 4x100m medley relays. Rose again won the 400m freestyle, the first man to win the event twice, was second in the 1500m freestyle to Aussie teammate John Konrads, and won a bronze medal in the 4x200m freestyle relay. Konrads also picked up two bronze medals, while his sister, Ilsa, won a silver medal in the 4x100m freestyle relay. Queensland ace David Theile won his second successive gold in the 100m backstroke and added a silver in the 4x100m medley relay. John Devitt, relay gold medallist in 1956, won Australia its second consecutive gold in the 100m freestyle.
Sailor Alex ‘Jock’ Sturrock, a bronze medallist in 1956, had the honour of carrying the Australian flag in the Opening Ceremony. Two years later he would lead Australia’s first challenge for the America’s Cup. Winning a bronze medal was light-heavyweight boxer Tony Madigan, who lost to Cassius Clay (later Muhammad Ali) in a hotly-contested semi-final.