1956 Summer Olympics

The 1956 Summer Olympics, officially known as the Games of the XVI Olympiad, was an international multi-sport event that was held in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, from 22 November to 8 December 1956, with the exception of the equestrian events, which were held in Stockholm, Sweden, in June 1956.

These Games were the first to be staged in the Southern Hemisphere and Oceania, as well as the first to be held outside Europe and North America. Melbourne is the most southerly city ever to host the Olympics. Due to the Southern Hemisphere's seasons being different from those in the Northern Hemisphere, the 1956 Games did not take place at the usual time of year, because of the need to hold the events during the warmer weather of the host's spring/summer (which corresponds to the Northern Hemisphere's autumn/winter).

The Olympic equestrian events could not be held in Melbourne due to Australia's strict quarantine regulations, so they were held in Stockholm five months earlier. This was the second time that the Olympics were not held entirely in one country, the first being the 1920 Summer Olympics, which were held in Antwerp, Belgium, with some events taking place in Ostend, Belgium and Amsterdam, Netherlands. Despite uncertainties and various complications encountered during the preparations, the 1956 Games went ahead in Melbourne as planned and turned out to be a success. The enduring tradition of national teams parading as one during the closing ceremony was started at these Olympics.

Several teams boycotted the Games in protest of the IOC’s rejection to suspend the USSR after their invasion of Hungary.

Games of the XVI Olympiad
1956 Summer Olympics logo
Host cityMelbourne, Victoria, Australia
Athletes3,314 (2,938 men, 376 women)
Events151 in 17 sports (23 disciplines)
Opening22 November
Closing8 December
Opened by
StadiumMelbourne Cricket Ground
Helsinki 1952 Rome 1960
Cortina 1956 Squaw Valley 1960

Host city selection

Melbourne was selected as the host city over bids from Buenos Aires, Mexico City, Montreal and six American cities on 28 April 1949, at the 43rd IOC Session in Rome, Italy.[2]


Many members of the IOC were sceptical about Melbourne as an appropriate site. Its location in the Southern Hemisphere was a major concern, since the reversal of seasons would mean the Games must be held during the northern winter. The November–December schedule was thought likely to inconvenience athletes from the Northern Hemisphere, who were accustomed to resting during their winter.

Notwithstanding these concerns, the field of candidates eventually narrowed to two Southern Hemisphere cities, these being Melbourne and Buenos Aires, Argentina. Melbourne was selected, in 1949, to host the 1956 Olympics by a one-vote margin. The first sign of trouble was the revelation that Australian equine quarantine would prevent the country from hosting the equestrian events. Stockholm was selected as the alternative site, so equestrian competition began on 10 June, five and a half months before the rest of the Olympic Games were to open.

The above problems of the Melbourne Games were compounded by bickering over financing among Australian politicians. Faced with a housing shortage, the Premier of Victoria (Henry Bolte) refused to allocate money for the Olympic Village (eventually sited in Heidelberg West), and the country's Prime Minister (Robert Menzies) barred the use of federal funds.

At one point, IOC President Avery Brundage suggested that Rome, which was to host the 1960 Games, was so far ahead of Melbourne in preparations that it might be ready as a replacement site in 1956.

As late as April 1955, Brundage was still doubtful about Melbourne, and was not satisfied by an inspection trip to the city. Construction was well under way by then, thanks to a $4.5 million federal loan to Victoria, but it was behind schedule. He still held out the possibility that Rome might have to step in.

By the beginning of 1956, though, it was obvious that Melbourne would be ready for the Olympics.[4]

Participation and boycotts

1956 Summer Olympics (Melbourne) boycotting countries (blue)
Countries boycotting the 1956 Games are shaded blue

Egypt, Iraq, and Lebanon announced that they would not participate in the Olympics in response to the Suez Crisis when Egypt was invaded by Israel, the United Kingdom, and France after Egypt nationalised the Suez Canal. Meanwhile, in 1956 the Soviet Union crushed the Hungarian Revolution, and the Soviet presence at the Games led to the withdrawal of the Netherlands, Cambodia, Spain, and Switzerland.

Less than two weeks before the 22 November opening ceremony, the People's Republic of China chose to boycott the event because the Republic of China had been allowed to compete.

Although the number of countries participating (67) was almost the same as in 1952 (69), the number of athletes competing dropped sharply, from 4,925 to 3,342. (This figure does not include the 158 athletes from 29 countries who took part in the Stockholm equestrian competition.)


Once underway, the Games progressed smoothly, and came to be known as the "Friendly Games". Betty Cuthbert, an 18-year-old from Sydney, won the 100 and 200 metre sprint races and ran an exceptional final leg in the 4 x 100 metre relay to overcome Great Britain's lead and claim her third gold medal. The veteran Shirley Strickland repeated her 1952 win in the 80 metre hurdles and was also part of the winning 4 x 100 metre relay team, bringing her career Olympic medal total to seven: three golds, a silver, and three bronze medals.

Australia also triumphed in swimming. They won all of the freestyle races, men's and women's, and collected a total of eight gold, four silver and two bronze medals. Murray Rose became the first male swimmer to win two freestyle events since Johnny Weissmuller in 1924, while Dawn Fraser won gold medals in the 100 metre freestyle and as the leadoff swimmer in the 4 x 100 metre relay team.

The men's track and field events were dominated by the United States. They not only won 15 of the 24 events, they swept four of them and took first and second place in five others. Bobby Morrow led the way with gold medals in the 100 and 200 metre sprints and the 4 x 100 metre relay. Tom Courtney barely overtook Great Britain's Derek Johnson in the 800 metre run, then collapsed from the exertion and needed medical attention.

Ireland's Ronnie Delany ran an outstanding 53.8 over the last 400 metres to win the 1,500 metre run, in which favourite John Landy of Australia finished third.

There was a major upset, marred briefly by controversy, in the 3,000 metre steeplechase. Little-known Chris Brasher of Great Britain finished well ahead of the field, but the judges disqualified him for interfering with Norway's Ernst Larsen, and they announced Sándor Rozsnyói of Hungary as the winner. Brasher's appeal was supported by Larsen, Rozsnyói, and fourth-place finisher Heinz Laufer of Germany. Subsequently, the decision was reversed and Brasher became the first Briton to win a gold medal in track and field since 1936.

Only two world records were set in track and field. Mildred McDaniel, the first American woman to win gold in the sport, set a high jump record of 1.76 metres (5.8 ft), and Egil Danielsen of Norway overcame blustery conditions with a remarkable javelin throw of 85.71 metres (281.2 ft).

Throughout the Olympics, Hungarian athletes were cheered by fans from Australia and other countries. Many of them gathered in the boxing arena when thirty-year-old Laszlo Papp of Hungary won his third gold medal by beating José Torres for the light-middleweight championship.

A few days later, the crowd was with the Hungarian water polo team in its match against the Soviet Union which took place against the background of the Soviet invasion of Hungary. The game became rough and, when a Hungarian was forced to leave the pool with a bleeding wound above his eye, a riot almost broke out. The police restored order and the game was called early, with Hungary leading 4–0, and the Hungarians went on to win the gold medal.

In a much publicized Olympic romance, American hammer throw champion Hal Connolly would marry Czechoslovak discus throw champion, Olga Fikotová. After moving to the United States, Olga wanted to continue representing Czechoslovakia, but the Czech Olympic Committee would not allow her to do so.[5] Thereafter, as Olga Connolly, she took part in every Olympics until 1972[5] competing for the U.S.[6] She was the flag bearer for the U.S. team at the 1972 Summer Olympics.

Despite the international tensions of 1956—or perhaps because of them—a young Melburnian, John Ian Wing, came up with a new idea for the closing ceremony. Instead of marching as separate teams, behind their national flags, the athletes mingled together as they paraded into and around the arena for a final appearance before the spectators. It was the start of an Olympic tradition that has been followed ever since.[7]


  • These were the first Summer Olympic Games under the IOC presidency of Avery Brundage.
  • Hungary and the Soviet Union (who were engaged in an armed conflict at the time) were both present at the Games which, among other things, led to a hotly contested and emotionally charged water polo encounter between the two nations.
  • Athletes from both East and West Germany competed together as a combined team, a remarkable display of unity that was repeated in 1960 and 1964, but was then discontinued.
  • Australian athlete Betty Cuthbert became the "Golden Girl" by winning three gold medals in track events. Another Australian, Murray Rose, won three gold medals in swimming.
  • U.S. sprinter Bobby Morrow won three gold medals, in the 100m and 200m sprints, and the 4 × 100 m relay.
  • Soviet runner Vladimir Kuts won both the 5,000 metre and 10,000 metre events.
  • Inspired by Australian teenager John Ian Wing, an Olympic tradition began when athletes from different nations were allowed to parade together at the closing ceremony, rather than separately with their national teams, as a symbol of world unity.
During the Games there will be only one nation. War, politics and nationalities will be forgotten. What more could anybody want if the world could be made one nation.
—Extract from a letter by John Wing to the Olympic organisers, 1956
  • Laszlo Papp defended his light-middleweight boxing title, gaining a record third Olympic gold medal.
  • Ronnie Delany won gold for Ireland in the 1,500m final, the last Olympic gold medal that Ireland has won in a track event.
  • The India national field hockey team won its sixth consecutive Olympic gold.

Olympic torch relay

1956 Olympic Torch relay Cairns
Torch relay monument, Cairns

The Olympic flame was relayed to Melbourne after being lit at Olympia on 2 November 1956.

  • Greek runners took the flame from Olympia to Athens.
  • The flame was transferred to a miner's lamp, then flown by Qantas Super Constellation aircraft "Southern Horizon" to Darwin, Northern Territory.
  • A Royal Australian Air Force English Electric Canberra jet bomber transported the flame to Cairns, Queensland, where it arrived on 9 November 1956.
  • The Mayor of Cairns, Alderman W.J. Fulton, lit the first torch.
  • The torch design was identical to that used for the 1948 London Games (except for the engraved city name and year).
  • The first runner was Con Verevis, a local man of Greek parentage.
  • The flame was relayed down the east coast of Australia using die cast aluminium torches weighing about 3 pounds (1.8 kg).
  • The flame arrived in Melbourne on 22 November 1956, the day of the opening ceremony.
  • The flame was lit at the Olympic stadium by Ron Clarke, who accidentally burned his arm in the process.

While the Olympic flame was being carried to Sydney, an Australian veterinary student named Barry Larkin carried a fake Olympic Flame and fooled the mayor of Sydney.[8]


The 1956 Summer Olympics featured 17 different sports encompassing 23 disciplines, and medals were awarded in 151 events (145 events in Melbourne and 6 equestrian events in Stockholm).[9] In the list below, the number of events in each discipline is noted in parentheses.

Demonstration sports


Melbourne olmpic pool (lexus centre)
The heritage registered former Olympic Pool (now the Holden Centre), viewed from the Yarra River

Participating National Olympic Committees

1956 Summer Olympic games countries
Participating countries, those making their début are shown in blue.
1956 Summer olympics team numbers
Number of athletes per country

A total of 67 nations competed in the 1956 Olympics. Eight countries made their Olympic debuts: Cambodia (only competed in the equestrian events in Stockholm), Ethiopia, Fiji, Kenya, Liberia, Federation of Malaya, North Borneo (modern-day Sabah of Malaysia), and Uganda. Athletes from East Germany and West Germany competed together as the United Team of Germany, an arrangement that would last until 1968.

For the first time, the team of Republic of China effectively represented only Taiwan.

Five nations competed in the equestrian events in Stockholm, but did not attend the Games in Melbourne. Egypt did not compete in Melbourne due to the Suez Crisis, whilst the Netherlands, Spain and Switzerland all boycotted the Melbourne Olympics in protest at the Soviet invasion of Hungary.[10]

Medal count

These are the top ten nations that won medals at the 1956 Games.

1 Soviet Union37293298
2 United States32251774
3 Australia*1381435
4 Hungary910726
5 Italy88925
6 Sweden85619
7 United Team of Germany613726
8 Great Britain671124
9 Romania53513
10 Japan410519
Totals (10 nations)128118113359

  *   Host nation (Australia)

See also


  1. ^ a b "Factsheet - Opening Ceremony of the Games of the Olympiad" (PDF) (Press release). International Olympic Committee. 13 September 2013. Archived (PDF) from the original on 14 August 2016. Retrieved 22 December 2018.
  2. ^ "Ioc Vote History". Aldaver.com. Retrieved 24 August 2012.
  3. ^ "Past Olympic host city election results". GamesBids. Archived from the original on 17 March 2011. Retrieved 17 March 2011.
  4. ^ Wendy Lewis, Simon Balderstone and John Bowan (2006). Events That Shaped Australia. New Holland. pp. 212–217. ISBN 978-1-74110-492-9.
  5. ^ a b Duguid, Sarah (9 June 2012). "The Olympians: Olga Fikotová, Czechoslovakia". Financial Times Magazine.
  6. ^ Pat McCormick. sports-reference.com
  7. ^ Text of John Ian Wing's letter, page found 28 June 2011.
  8. ^ Turpin, Adrian (8 August 2004). "Olympics Special: The Lost Olympians (Page 1)". Find Articles, originally The Independent on Sunday. Archived from the original on 13 April 2008. Retrieved 6 April 2008.
  9. ^ IOC site for the 1956 Olympic Games
  10. ^ "Melbourne – Stockholm 1956: (ALL FACTS)". IOC. Retrieved 1 October 2018.

External links

Preceded by
Summer Olympic Games

XVI Olympiad (1956)
Succeeded by
Association football at the 1956 Summer Olympics

The association football tournament at the 1956 Summer Olympics was won by the Soviet Union.

Athletics at the 1956 Summer Olympics

At the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne, 33 athletics events were contested, 24 for men and 9 for women. There were a total number of 720 participating athletes from 61 countries.

Australia at the 1956 Summer Olympics

Australia was the host nation for the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne, Australia. However, due to Australian quarantine restrictions the equestrian events were held in Stockholm, Sweden. 294 competitors, 250 men and 44 women, took part in 140 events in 18 sports.

Boxing at the 1956 Summer Olympics

Boxing at the 1956 Summer Olympics took place at the West Melbourne Stadium. A total number of 164 competitors entered from 35 nations, of whom 161 from 34 nations weighed-in and boxing was held eight nights and five afternoons. The boxing schedule began on 23 November and ended on 1 December. Ten boxing events (all men's individual) were contested.

Canada at the 1956 Summer Olympics

Canada competed at the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne, Australia and Stockholm, Sweden (equestrian events). 92 competitors, 77 men and 15 women, took part in 81 events in 14 sports.

Cycling at the 1956 Summer Olympics

The cycling competition at the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne consisted of two road cycling events and four track cycling events, all for men only.

Equestrian at the 1956 Summer Olympics

The equestrian events at the 1956 Summer Olympics were held in Stockholm due to the Australian quarantine regulations and included dressage, eventing, and show jumping. All three disciplines had both individual and team competitions. The competitions were held from 11 to 17 June 1956 at Stockholm Olympic Stadium. There were 159 entries from 29 countries: Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, Cambodia, Canada, Denmark, Egypt, Finland, France, Federal Republic of Germany, Great Britain, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Romania, Soviet Union, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, USA and Venezuela. This would be the first appearance for Australia, Cambodia and Venezuela in equestrian events.

Although Melbourne was awarded the 1956 Olympic Games, Australia had a strict six-month pre-shipment quarantine on horses. A meeting in 1953 by Australian federal authorities ruled that they would not change the quarantine laws for the Olympic horses. Therefore, the equestrian competition would not be able to be held in Australia. In 1954, the IOC selected Stockholm, Sweden as the alternate venue for the equestrian events. Therefore, the equestrian events were not only separated by city or country, but also continent, with the equestrian event being held in June (summer in the Northern Hemisphere) and the other sports held in November (late spring in the Southern Hemisphere).

France at the 1956 Summer Olympics

France competed at the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne, Australia and Stockholm, Sweden (equestrian events). 137 competitors, 119 men and 18 women, took part in 95 events in 15 sports.

Great Britain at the 1956 Summer Olympics

Great Britain, represented by the British Olympic Association (BOA), competed at the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne, Australia. British athletes have competed in every Summer Olympic Games. 189 competitors, 163 men and 26 women, took part in 108 events in 17 sports.The Melbourne Games saw an improvement on Great Britain and Northern Ireland's performance at the two preceding Games. British athletes won six gold medals (up from just one in 1952). Overall, they won twenty-four medals, finishing eighth.

Hungary at the 1956 Summer Olympics

Hungary competed at the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne, Australia and Stockholm, Sweden (equestrian events). 108 competitors, 88 men and 20 women, took part in 80 events in 12 sports.

Italy at the 1956 Summer Olympics

Italy competed at the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne, Australia and Stockholm, Sweden (equestrian events). 129 competitors, 114 men and 15 women, took part in 76 events in 13 sports.

North Borneo at the 1956 Summer Olympics

North Borneo competed at the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne, Australia. It was the only Olympic appearance by the former British protectorate, which formed part of the new country Malaysia in 1963.

Romania at the 1956 Summer Olympics

Romania competed at the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne, Australia and Stockholm, Sweden (equestrian events). 44 competitors, 33 men and 11 women, took part in 35 events in 10 sports.

Rowing at the 1956 Summer Olympics – Men's eight

The men's eight competition at the 1956 Summer Olympics took place at Lake Wendouree near Ballarat, Australia.

Soviet Union at the 1956 Summer Olympics

The Soviet Union (USSR) competed at the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne, Australia. 272 competitors, 233 men and 39 women, took part in 135 events in 17 sports.

Sweden at the 1956 Summer Olympics

Sweden competed at the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne, Australia, with the exception of the equestrian events, which could not be held in Australia due to quarantine regulations. Instead, those events were held five months earlier in Stockholm, Sweden.

88 competitors, 74 men and 14 women, took part in 74 events in 14 sports. Swedish athletes won a total of 19 medals at the games, including 3 golds in the equestrian events held in their own country.

Swimming at the 1956 Summer Olympics

At the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne, 13 swimming events were contested, seven for men and six for women. There was a total of 235 participants from 33 countries competing. For the first time, the butterfly stroke was contested as a separate event. Australia dominated the medal standings with a total of 8 out of a possible 13 gold medals, eventually finishing with 14 medals overall.

United States at the 1956 Summer Olympics

The United States competed at the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne, Australia. 297 competitors, 251 men and 46 women, took part in 139 events in 18 sports.

United Team of Germany at the 1956 Summer Olympics

Germany was represented at the 1956 Summer Olympics by a United Team of Germany of athletes from the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) (West Germany) and, for the first time at Summer Games, also from the German Democratic Republic (GDR) (East Germany) which had not joined in 1952. Also, the Saarland athletes who had to enter as a separate team in 1952 could now join in even though the accession of their state was not yet in effect. Thus, this was the only Olympic team ever to comprise athletes from three German states.

Most of the Games were held in Melbourne, Australia, but due to Australian quarantine regulations the equestrian events were held five months earlier in Stockholm, Sweden. 158 competitors, 134 men and 24 women, took part in 95 events in 15 sports.

1956 Summer Olympics bidding results[3]
City Country Round 1 Round 2 Round 3 Round 4
Melbourne  Australia 14 18 19 21
Buenos Aires  Argentina 9 12 13 20
Los Angeles  United States 5 4 5
Detroit  United States 2 4 4
Mexico City  Mexico 9 3
Chicago  United States 1
Minneapolis  United States 1
Philadelphia  United States 1
San Francisco  United States 0
Montreal  Canada 0
Participating National Olympic Committees
NOCs that participated in the equestrian events in Stockholm, but did not attend the Games in Melbourne:
Nations at the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne, Australia and Stockholm, Sweden
Events at the 1956 Summer Olympics (Melbourne/Stockholm)
Venues of the 1956 Summer Olympics (Melbourne)

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