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Melbourne 1956 Olympics: The Games are opened

22 November 2016

AOC: After years of preparation, finally the opening ceremony commenced at 3.00pm at the MCG. For the final torch bearer, Ron Clarke, the day had started earlier. He was collected from his Essendon home at 9.30am in a chauffeur drive car.

At 10.00am Clarke was taken into the MCG change rooms for a rehearsal of the opening ceremony. He was handed an extra piece of clothing, a balaclava. This is how they would keep his identify a secret as the venue was already busy with catering staff, television crews, officials, police and security staff, along with official photographers.

By 11.00am the torch had reached Geelong and back at the MCG the gates had opened for spectators.  The temperature was 27 degrees and the stadium by noon was about half full with spectators enjoying lunch from picnic baskets while relaxing on blankets. At 2.00pm with just an hour to the start of proceedings, the Olympic flame left Werribee and was heading towards Laverton.

As 3.00pm arrived the stadium was packed with 105,000 spectators. The Duke of Edinburgh’s motorcade was on time. God Save the Queen was playing as the Duke stepped from his car to meet the Prime Minister Robert Menzies and the other members of the official party – Kent Hughes (Chairman of the Organising Committee), Avery Brundage (President of the IOC) and Sir Frank Selleck (Lord Mayor of Melbourne).

At 3.30pm the stadium announcer guided our attention to the eastern end of the stadium. A man entered the stadium wearing a royal blue blazer – it was the start of the parade of teams with Greece first to march, maintaining the tradition as the descendants of the Games’ founders. The parade included 3,300 athletes from 67 nations. The Olympic torch was now in Collins Street where crowds were enormous. Ron Clarke was waiting at the back of the grandstand.

It was no surprise the Australians marched into the MCG to an ovation fitting of an AFL Grand Final.

As members of the official party walked to the rostrum on the oval, the wind in the stadium dropped and clouds rolled in. Following words from Hughes and Brundage the Duke of Edinburgh opened the Games. “I declare open the Olympic Games of Melbourne, celebrating the XVI Olympiad of the modern era.”

After the flags were raised a 21-gun salute rocked the MCG. Suddenly from the north-eastern entrance a bright light emerged. Ron Clarke in white shorts and t-shirt ran from the tunnel – the stadium erupted. The smooth running style of Clarke was distinctive as a trail of smoke marked his progress.

After a lap of the stadium, he disappeared momentarily as he climbed the 85 steps to the cauldron. He reappeared to a deafening roar, stood and held the torch high, then walked to the rostrum, leaned over and lit the cauldron which exploded in flames, sending Clarke staggering back.

Down on the track the teams broke ranks and stood in a semi-circle around the rostrum was John Landy held the Australian flag and raised his right hand and read the Olympic Oath on behave of all competing athletes.

As the crowd dispersed Ron Clarke was in the medical centre receiving treatment for his burns. At a post ceremony press conference, he desplayed a hand to shoulder bandage of his arm. It was revealed later that the burner had been turned up during the torch relay and was at a higher level than his trial earlier in the day. Clarke, his girlfriend and parents headed off home – by train! Yes the person who had played a leading role in the ceremony took the train home.

Watch videos of the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games video1, video2 (from 8 minute mark)

The Olympic basketball competition commenced immediately after the opening ceremony with the first games of the tournament. Eventual silver medallists, Soviet Union defeated Canada, while in the second game, Taipei defeated Korea. The 15-team competition was held in the Royal Exhibition Building, near Carlton.

Prices for tickets to the opening ceremony varied from £ 3/4/-,most expensive, down to the cheapest of £ -/9/-. That is equal to $6.40 to 90 cents. Taking into 60 years of inflation those prices today would be $100 down to $14.

David Tarbotton

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