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Melbourne 1956 Olympics - an unlikely cycling gold

6 December 2016

Day 15 – Thursday 6 December 1956 In water polo there was a milestone for Australia with its first win, but the focus of water polo was on another game. It was a dramatic day in Olympic history with the famous “Blood in the Water” water polo game between Hungary and the Soviet Union. (See a separate article about this game.)

CYCLING: Australia’s pairing of Ian Browne and Tony Marchant, one of the big surprises for the host nation, fought their way into the gold medal race in the 2000m Tandem Sprint event against Czechoslovakia. The Australians learnt how to beat the Czechs by moving into their sprint before the last lap, overcoming the Czechs terrific burst of speed which had defeated the Australians in the repechage. Browne and Marchant won Australia’s only gold medal outside of swimming and athletics.

There were more medals for Australia in the velodrome on the final day of track cycling. After a controversial semi-final where he lost to Italian Gugielmo Pesenti, Richard Ploog was in the men’s sprint bronze medal race against New Zealand’s Warren Johnston. Ploog had little trouble winning the medal two races to nil. In the gold medal race France’s Michel Rousseau defeated Pesenti 2-0. After the medals were presented Rousseau and Australia’s Ploog were allowed to attack the flying start amateur 200m record. Rousseau equalled the record recording 11.4, while Ploog beat it with 11.2.

Australia just missed a third medal in the men’s 1000m time trial. Warren Scarfe placed a very close fourth in 1:12.1, half a second from a bronze medal..

DIVING: Australia’s leading female diver, Barbara MacAuley, returned to the pool to compete her second event, the 10m platform. 12 of the 18 divers in the qualifying round would progress to the final after they completed their four dives. Similar to the springboard event, MacAuley again fell short, just missing the final, placing 14th with 45.67 points. She had required only 46.15 points to progress. Her non-qualification was a surprise as she was the current Commonwealth Games champion. Her team mates Rosalyn Barton and Adele Price placed 16th and 18th respectively.

HOCKEY: In their final 5th to 8th classification tournament game, Australia defeated Singapore 5-0. The win put them at the top of the group and fifth place for the tournament – not bad in their Olympic debut with four wins from their seven games. Leading goals scorers for Australia were Maurice Foley and Eric Pearce with five each.

WATER POLO: Australia had moved into the classification rounds for places 7th to 10th. In their first match against Singapore, they achieved an Olympic milestone, claiming their inaugural win in Olympic history 3-2.

SWIMMING: In the men's 100m backstrokee, the more fancied swimmers were American pair Yoshi Oyakawa (reigning Olympic champion) and Albert Wiggins (world record holder). However Aussie John Monckton looked the best in the early rounds, defeating team mate David Theile in the semi-final 64.1 to 64.8. In the final it was Theile who had a superior turn, going on to win by one second in a time that would in 1957 become recognised as the world record when FINA change to rule to allow world records only in 50m pools. Theile clocked 62.2, with Monckton timed at 63.2. In fifth place was NSW’s John Hayres. The 1.90m tall Theile defended his title in Rome four years later, before going on to become a successful surgeon.

After sweeping the medals in the individual event, it was no surprise Australia were favourites for the women’s 4x100m freestyle final. They rested Lorraine Crapp and Dawn Fraser in the heats, but were at full strength for the final. In the final Fraser led off for the Australians but had to overcome a slow start when she thought she heard a recall. However, she made up ground and put the Aussies in the lead. The race remained close with the Americans, until the anchor Crapp was able to pull away for a two second win in a world record time of 4:17.1. The Americans also went under the older world record clocking 4:19.2.

David Tarbotton

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