Rome 1960

Games History

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. 

Among the many champions in Rome was an American light-heavyweight boxer named Cassius Clay. Later, he would change his name to Muhammad Ali and become the greatest heavyweight champion of them all. He would make a return to the Games to light the Olympic cauldron in Atlanta in 1996. Another American winning fans was sprinter Wilma Rudolph. As a child, she had been stricken with polio. But she overcame the illness to become one of the fastest women in the world, winning the 100m, 200m and 4x100m relay golds.

If the golden moments of Clay, Bikila, Elliott, Rudolph and Fraser weren’t enough, Rome also witnessed the zenith of some of the Games’ most famous streaks – and the fall of one of its great dynasties. In fencing, Hungarian legend Aladar Gerevich won his sixth consecutive gold medal in the team sabre event, a record that still stands today. Danish sailor Paul Elvstrom became the first Olympian to win four successive individual gold medals, his success coming in the Finn dinghy class. In hockey, India’s men suffered their first loss since entering the Games in 1928, losing the final 1-0 to Pakistan. India had won 30 consecutive games and seven consecutive gold medals until the shock defeat.