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Melbourne 1956 Olympics - Controversy and near misses

5 December 2016

Day 14 – Wednesday 5 December 1956
Sailing medals were on the line on Day 14 of the Melbourne Olympics. Australia had a number of medal hopes, but unfortunately there was controversy which cost Australia a gold medal. In shooting we missed a medal by just two shots.

DIVING: Three Australian divers contested the 10m platform qualifying rounds on this day. They were a different trio that had competed in the 3m springboard competition earlier in the Games. Unfortunately, all three failed to progress to the final – their places were: Frank Murphy 17th, William Tully 18th, and Barry Holmes 22nd.

SAILING: Seventh had been Australia’s best place since they made their Olympic debut in 1948. This was the last day of competition and the 11-member, five boat Australian team were enjoying a very competitive regatta.

In the 5.5 metre/Dragon Class the team of Jock Sturrock, Devereaux Mytton and Doug Buxton, went into the last race ranked second. They had placed in the top-three in three races and never lower than fourth. In their concluding race, they maintained their outstanding consistency placing fourth, but unfortunately is was not enough to hold off Great Britain who snuck past them to claim the silver overall with them settling for bronze. For one of Australia’s greatest ever sailors, it was a well earnt medal for Jock Sturrock in his third Olympic campaign.

Rolly Tasker and John Scott, sailing Falcon IV in the Two Person Dinghy/Sharpie class, were on the cusp of a historic sailing medal for Australia. They led New Zealand’s Jest going into the final race. Their series had been impeccable, with two wins and four seconds. In their last race the Australian’s appeared to be in trouble when France and Canada appeared to tangle with them at the windward buoy. France flew a protest flag, while Australia did not. Now over a minute behind the leaders, Australia sailed magnificently moving into the lead close to the finish and crossing the line half-a-length ahead of New Zealand. But France protested against Australia and Australia’s late protest against Canada was rejected as they had not flown a flag during the race. After a two hour jury meeting, Australia were disqualified, a sad end to a brilliant race. Australia and New Zealand finished on the same number of overall points, but on countback the Kiwis had an extra race win, awarding them the gold with Australia winning silver.

Australia had a chance for a third medal in the Dragon/3-person Keelboat class, lying in fourth place going into the last race. The Australian team of Graham Drane and brothers Brian and Jim Carolan, sailing Paula, had been a little inconsistent in the regatta. They had a second, three fourths, but slump to a 10th and 14th in early races. In their last race, they placed ninth, slipping down to fifth overall.

Australia’s other two teams were Robert French and Jack Downey sailing Naiad in the Star/Two Person Keelboat class, placing ninth and Colin Ryrie in the Finn/One Person Dinghy class finishing 10th overall.

SHOOTING: Competing in his second event of the Games, Don Tolbert placed a competitive 10th in the 50m Rifle Prone event. It was an extremely tight competition with Tolbert finishing two shots from a medal. In his six rounds he scored 100, 98, 100, 99, 99 and 100. His total of 596, for 10th place was close to the medal winning scores of 600 (gold), 599 (silver) and 598 (bronze). It was a large improvement of his result the previous day where he was 27th in the 50m Rifle Three positions event.

SWIMMING: Just 16 hours after the 400m freestyle final, the men were back in the pool for the 1500m freestyle heats and again it looked a three-way battle between 400m freestyle medallist from the previous night. At his Olympic trials American George Breen had broken the world record, a feat repeated a few months later by Murray Rose at his Olympic trials. In heat one, Rose edged Japan’s Tsuyoshi Yamanaka as they both smashed the Olympic record by a staggering 25 seconds. Could Breen respond in his heat? He certainly could, swimming 11 seconds faster that Rose and Yamanaka and smashing Rose’s world record. The scene was set for a great final in two days.

David Tarbotton

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