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Melbourne 1956 Olympics - an unlikely cycling duo on Day 12

3 December 2016

Day 12 – Monday 3 December 1956

Before the 1956 Games, Australia had won five medals in Olympic cycling history, stamping it as one of our most successful Olympic sports. In Melbourne supporters had to wait until day 12 of the program to see cycling action and an unlikely tandem duo.

CYCLING: Competing in the new velodrome in Olympic Park, the performance of Ian Browne and Tony Merchant in the 2000m Tandem Sprint was simply extraordinary. The Australian duo had been paired just weeks before the Games and had no international experience; and it showed riding like novices in their opening races losing their heat to South Africa and Germany. In their repechage, they again lost, this time to Czechoslovakia. After a crash between the German and Soviet Union teams in the next heat, the later were hospitalised and withdrew. This gave Australia one last shot against Germany and the USA. To everyone’s surprise Australia won and proceed into the quarter final the next day.

The other Australian’s competing on the first day of the cycling program were unimpressive in a future strong event for Australia. The men’s 4000m Team Pursuit team were caught by their competition France on lap nine and were eliminated after their heat.

DIVING: Australian medal hope in the diving, Barbara MacAuley, went very close to qualifying for the 3m springboard final. The mother of four-time Olympian Jenny Donnet was considered an outside medal chance on the strength of her silver medal winning effort at the 1954 Commonwealth Games. 12 of the 18 divers in the qualifying round would progress to the final. MacAuley started well scoring the fourth best dive on her first attempt, but she then struggled on the next few dives: second dive – 13th place, third dive 11th place and fourth dive 15th place. She then regrouped on dive five, placing fifth and moving back to eighth place. She unfortunately placed last on her final dive, dropping to 13th place and missing the top-12 by 0.11 points (60.30 to 60.19). Her team mates Rosalyn Barton placed 14th and Pat Howard 17th.

FENCING: The Australian Sabre Team of Leslie Fadgyas, Alexander Martonffy, Emeric Santo, Leslie Kovacs and Sandor Szoke lost their two pool one games against France (9-1) and the Soviet Union (14-2) placing them equal seventh in the tournament.

HOCKEY: Australia played Belgium in their first game of the 5th to 8th classification tournament organised by the International Hockey Federation. They drew 2-2, in a game which enabled coach Fred Browne to use some team members not used earlier in the tournament.

SWIMMING: Australia won three consecutive medals in the men’s 4x200m from 1912 to 1924, but since then it has been a Japan vs USA showdown. Ahead of the Melbourne Games, the Soviet Union sprung a surprise by breaking the world record four months before the Games, while Australia had a strong contingent of freestyle swimmers and would be competitive. The heats didn’t reveal much as just a few seconds covered the leading teams, as Australia were ‘only’ third in their heat in a time of 8:40.2. However, in the final Australia’s line up of Kevin O’Halloran, John Devitt, Murray Rose and Jon Henricks dominated the race, leading from the first leg, going on to win by a staggering eight seconds and breaking the world record. The Aussies all split 2:06, except Henricks who anchored in 2:04.4.

WRESTLING: This was an historic day for Australia making its debut in Greco-Roman Wrestling – the most ancient competitive sport introduced into the Ancient Olympic Games in 708 B.C. Australia fielded seven competitors who competed in their first round bouts.

David Tarbotton

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