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Melbourne 1956 Olympics - Dawn Fraser wins first Olympic medal

1 December 2016

Day 10 – Saturday 1 December 1956

On day 10 in the Olympic pool, we witnessed Dawn Fraser win her first Olympic medal, she would go on to win nine during a magnificent career. It was probably the greatest day in athletics with three medals on the track, one of each colour. We watched a gallant John Landy in the metric mile and teams in action were basketball, football and hockey.

ATHLETICS: Hopes were high that mile world-record holder John Landy, competing on home soil, could win gold. He had not had the ideal lead up. For 18 months from July 1954 to December 1955, he was teaching at Timbertops, in remote mountainous north-east Victoria and kept fit by long walks and jogging around the rough mountain paths. Upon his return to Melbourne for the summer of 1955/56, his form was tremendous. He smashed his 800m, and three mile personal bests and ran a magnificent 3:58.6 mile. He also won the famous Australia mile championships where he stopped for about five seconds to assist the fallen Ron Clarke. Reluctantly at the end of the season he answered a call to run two races in USA, where he injured his leg. Over the next six months, due to injury, he struggled to train or race. The selectors named him in the Olympic team despite being unable to compete in the trials.

In the Olympic final in Melbourne the race was initially taken out by NZ’s Murray Halberg with Landy and Ireland’s Ron Delany lagging at the back of the field, before Lincoln took over at 700m. At the bell the field was bunched covering just seven metres. With 250m to go, Delany kicked, going onto win. German Klaus Richtzenhain held off a fast finishing Landy for the silver medal

The Australian men’s 4x400m relay had a great campaign at the Games. In the heat the line up of Leon Gregory, David Lean, Graham Gipson and Kevan Gosper took six seconds from the national record as they clocked 3:10.3. After the race Kevan Gosper noted: “Greg (Leon Gregory) will run a lot better and I think the rest of us can take off a yard or two. Third place is not beyond us.”

In the final Australia raised their performance to a new level, running four seconds faster again, to easily secure the silver medal in a time of 3:06.2. They were now over 10 second quicker that any Australian team in history.

The women’s 4x100m relays ran heats and finals 80 minutes apart. The Australian and German teams were magnificent in the heats, both breaking the world record and taking one second off the Olympic record clocking 44.9. In the final German messed up their changes, leaving Great Britain, who led at the last change, the major threat. But Betty Cuthbert brought Australia home for a win in a new world and Olympic record time of 44.5.

BASEBALL: Baseball was one of the exhibition sports selected for the 1956 Olympics. The match was between an American and an Australian team. The American team comprised military players stationed in the Far East. The American’s won 11-5. After appearing on the Olympic program occasionally as an exhibition event, the sport won medal status in 1992.

BASKETBALL: Australia’s final game of the tournament, a playoff for 11-12th, was against Formosa (Chinese Taipei). In their previous match, Australia lost by 12 points. In this game they were stunned by Formosa who jumped to a 30-8 lead after 10 minutes. By half-time Australia was closer 46-32 points and at fulltime 87-70. Australia closed the tournament placing 12th. Inge Freidenfelds contributed the most to the scoreboard, recording 29 points. Leading Australian scorer was Dancis (112 points), just ahead of Freidenfelds (107 points).

CANOEING: Australia had five boats competing in the final day of the short two-day Olympic canoeing program. In the only women’s event on the program, the K1 500m, Emma Cochrane placed third in her heat, going on to place fifth in the final in 2:23.8, just 1.5 seconds outside a medal. Bill Jones and Tom Ohman backup from their solid performance the day prior in the 10,000m event to finish fifth in the C2 1,000m. Bryan Harper was seventh in the C1 1,000m and future four-time Olympian, Barry Stuart placed ninth in the K1 1,000m.

FOOTBALL: Australia’s first up win, three days earlier, put them into the quarter-finals matched against India. It was a see-sawing match with India scoring first in the ninth minute, followed by Australia (17th), then India (33rd) and Australia (41st) resulting in the 2-2 half-time score. After the break, India again struck in the 50th minute through their forward Neville D’Souza who had scored a hat trick of goals. Australia held on until the 80th minute when India put the win beyond reach for Australia, going on to win 4-2.

With no classification tournament, Australia were placed equal fifth with Indonesia, USA and Great Britain. Australia would have to wait 32 years, until 1988, before they would make another appearance in the Olympic Football tournament.

HOCKEY: Australia and Great Britain were tied at the top of their group, requiring a play-off. Unfortunately, the result was a repeat of the day prior, with GBR winning 1-0. They went on to narrowly miss the bronze medal in the tournament. Australia then competed in the 5th to 8th classification tournament organised by the International Hockey Federation.

SHOOTING: Australia selected two competitors, Clement Mudford and John Bryant, to compete in the men’s Trap competition held at the RAAF Station in Laverton. Bryant achieved the best results placing ninth with a score of 176, ahead of Mudford in 20th place with 164 shots.

SWIMMING: Through the early rounds the Australian women in the 100m Freestyle were on target to match the men’s clean sweep. In the heats Lorraine Crapp, then Dawn Fraser broke the Olympic record. They both won semi-finals in times of 63.1 and 63.0 respectively, setting up a showdown in the final. From the gun, Fraser led, turning with a slight lead over Crapp, but with 25metres to go, she drew up even with Fraser.

“For the last few strokes I didn’t breathe and just managed to beat her,” wrote Fraser in her autobiography. She clocked 62.0, just edging Crapp with 62.3, while 15-year-old Aussie Faith Leech was third.

“The Aussie girls had beaten the American favourites one, two, three and the crowd rose as one to cheer us loudly for a very long time.”

WRESTLING: On this day, Australia’s two remaining freestyle wrestlers competed in round four of the tournament. In the Heavyweight (>87kg) division Ray Mitchell had from the first three rounds, a win, loss and bye. In round four he lost to Finland’s Taisto Kangasniemi, who would go on to win bronze with Mitchell finishing equal fourth – the highest placed Australian at the Games. Kevin Coote also progressed to the fourth round competing in the Light Heavyweight (<75). After a win and a lost in the first two bouts, he won his third round against Ireland’s Gerry Martina. In round five he was matched against Iranian Gholam Reza Takhti, who had won silver in Helsinki. Unfortunately, Coote lost the bout and finishing the tournament in equal fifth place.

David Tarbotton

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