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Melbourne 1956 Games - last major day of competition

7 December 2016

Day 16 – Friday 7 December 1956

Day 16, Friday 7 December 1956, was the last major day of competition at the Melbourne Olympics. Just the closing ceremony and football final would be held on the following day. Australia finished the swimming competition with two more gold medals and the leading nation overall. There was competition for gymnastics, cycling and water polo, while an exhibition Australian Football Games was held on the MCG. Australia finished a clear third on the medal tally with 13 gold, eight silver and 14 bronze, for a total of 35 medals. Only the USA and Soviet Union finished ahead of the host nation.

AUSTRALIAN RULES FOOTBALL: The second demonstration sport of the Melbourne Olympics was an Australian Rules Football Game at the MCG. Future Olympic basketball legend, Lindsay Gaze was a reserve for the game and his brother Barry, was a centre. The game was played between a Victorian Amateur Football League (VAFA) team and a combined ‘amateurs’ Victorian Football League (VFL) and Victorian Football Association (VFA) team. Read Lindsay Gaze’s account of the game and watch a video of this match.

CYCLING: The final cycling event at the Games was the road race conducted over 188km on a 17km course held around Broadmeadows. The first Australian home in the race was John O’Sullivan in 41st just ahead of James Nevin 44th.

GYMNASTICS: In the men’s team artistic gymnastics, the Australian squad of Brian Blackburn, Graham Bond, David Gourlay, John Lees, Alex Ponton and Bruce Sharp placed seventh from seven teams with a tally of 477.15 points. Individually, Bruce Sharp achieved the best individual result, placing equal 28th in the vaulting horse.

SWIMMING: On the final night of swimming there was much anticipation around the men’s 1500m freestyle. In the heats the favourite, Australian Murray Rose, had lost his world record to American George Breen who also swam 11 seconds faster than Rose and Japan’s Tsuyoshi Yamanaka.

In the final Breen used his speed to lead the way early on in the race. Yamanaka and Rose stayed close, with Breen still leading at half-way. But shortly after, Rose made a move with Yamanaka going with him, as they passed Breen. With 100 metres to go Rose led Yamanaka by four metres as the crowd volume was the loudest yet heard at the pool. Rose held on to win in 17:58.9 with Yamanaka a close second in 18:00.3 and Breen holding on for third.

One of the certainties for gold in Melbourne was the phenomenal Lorraine Crapp. Twice in the lead up to the Games she had broken the 400m freestyle world record, first by taking 10 second from a 16-year-old mark, then another three seconds just a month before the Games. Some thought Dawn Fraser could challenge her, but Crapp was invincible winning by eight seconds. She had taken a total of 18 seconds from the Olympic record in her two swims. Crapp clocked 4:54.6, with Fraser winning silver in 5:02.5, the same time she had swum in her heat.

At the close of the swimming competition, Australia sat at the top of the medal tally with eight gold, four silver and two bronze. On eight occasions in Olympic swimming history Australia would place second on the medal tally, but this was the only occasion Australia led the medal count.

WATER POLO: In their final game of the Melbourne Olympics, Australia lost 5-2 to Great Britain. Australia finished the tournament placed ninth, their highest finish in Olympic history until 1980.

David Tarbotton

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