1956 Summer Olympics


Competition type Olympic Games
Host city (Venues)
Opening ceremony 22 November
Closing ceremony 8 December
Competition dates 22 November – 8 December
OCOG Organizing Committee for the Games of the XVI Olympiad Melbourne 1956
Participants 3190 from 67 countries
Medal events 145 in 20 disciplines
Other events 2 in 2 disciplines


For the only time in history the Games of the Olympiad were contested in two different countries (there was a slight exception to this in 1920). In 1949, the IOC awarded the Olympics to Australia by a single vote. This was to be the first time the Games would be held in the southern hemisphere and necessitated the Games being held very late in the year to take advantage of the early part of the Australian summer. The IOC would later learn dismayed that Australian quarantine laws would not allow the importation of horses for the equestrian events without an extended quarantine period. It was decided, bypassing the Olympic Charter, to contest separate Olympic Equestrian Games in Stockholm, Sweden. These were held in June without incident.

Between June and the Melbourne Olympics, the world was thrown into turmoil. On 29 October, Israel invaded Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. Then on 4 November 1956, 200,000 Soviet troops invaded Budapest, Hungary, to quell political uprisings in that country. Egypt, Lebanon and Iraq withdrew in protest of Israel’s action. The Netherlands, Spain, and, somewhat surprisingly, Switzerland withdrew in protest of the Soviet action. Switzerland kept alive its record of competing in every modern Olympics only because it had already been represented by athletes in Stockholm. These protests constituted the first true boycott in modern Olympic history, though the scene would be repeated in future Olympics. The Gold Coast, Guatemala, and Panama also did not enter the 1956 Olympic Games, although it is not exactly clear if this was part of a planned boycott or because of the distance to Australia.

With that background, water polo had the unusual distinction of being perhaps the most awaited event of the Olympics. In one of the round robin matches, the Soviet Union met the Hungarians, usually a water polo power. The athletes from both countries wasted no time in breaking all known rules and niceties of water polo. The water was literally blood red in several areas during the match and several players had to be helped out of the water because of bleeding. Hungary achieved some measure of revenge for the invasion of its country when it won, 4-0.

Three Soviet gymnasts and Hungarian gymnast Ágnes Keleti won three or more gold medals in the gym. After the Olympics, Keleti refused to return to Hungary in protest of the Soviet intrusion into her nation, emigrating first to Australia, and eventually to Israel. But the most popular athletes in Melbourne were Australian female sprinter Betty Cuthbert, who won the 100 and 200 metres and helped Australia win the 400 metre relay; Australian swimmer Murray Rose, who won three gold medals in the swimming pool; and the American sprinter Bobby Joe Morrow, who duplicated Cuthbert’s victories in the men’s events.

The Games were less well attended than those of other years because of the travel distance to Australia. Still, all the major sporting countries were represented. In a precursor of problems to come, the People’s Republic of China (Peking, later Beijing) withdrew because the Republic of China (Taipei, then Taiwan) was allowed to compete. The question of the two countries representation would not be resolved for 28 years.

The Closing Ceremony of the Melbourne was poignant and new to the Olympics. At the Closing Ceremony, the competing nations had been represented previously only by a flag bearer and the name standard bearer. But an Australian boy named John Ian Wing had written to the Melbourne Organizing Committee and suggested a change. He proposed that the athletes march in as a group, without regard to nationality or sport, to show how the athletes of varying nations had come together during the two weeks of the Olympics. As the final march of the athletes occurred at the Closing Ceremony, the Australian crowd serenaded them with the mystical Scottish hymn, “Will Ye’ No’ Come Back Again?” The Official Report noted, “A wave of emotion swept over the crowd, the Olympic Flame was engulfed in it and died; the Olympic flag went out in tears, not cheers, and a great silence. This, more than any remembered laurel of the Games, was something no-one had ever experienced before – not anywhere in the world, not anywhere in time.”

Bid process

Bid voting at the 44th IOC Session in Rome on 28 April 1949.

Round 1 Round 2 Round 3 Round 4
Melbourne Australia 14 18 19 21
Buenos Aires Argentina 9 12 13 20
Los Angeles, California United States 5 4 5
Detroit, Michigan United States 2 4 4
Mexico City Mexico 9 3
Chicago, Illinois United States 1
Minneapolis, Minnesota United States 1
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania United States 1

Montréal, Québec (Canada) and San Francisco, California (United States) had entered preliminary bids.


Officially opened by Philip, Duke of Edinburgh (His Royal Highness)
Torchbearer(s) Ron Clarke (Lit flame)
Taker of the Athlete's Oath John Landy
Flagbearers Full list

Medal Disciplines

Artistic Gymnastics Cycling Track Sailing
Athletics Diving Shooting
Basketball Fencing Swimming
Boxing Football Water Polo
Canoe Marathon Hockey Weightlifting
Canoe Sprint Modern Pentathlon Wrestling
Cycling Road Rowing

Other Disciplines

Australian Rules Football Baseball

Medal table

NOC Gold Silver Bronze Total
Soviet Union URS 37 29 32 98
United States USA 32 25 17 74
Australia AUS 13 8 14 35
Hungary HUN 9 10 7 26
Italy ITA 8 6 8 22
Great Britain GBR 5 7 9 21
Sweden SWE 5 5 6 16
Romania ROU 5 3 5 13
Germany GER 4 10 6 20
Japan JPN 4 10 5 19
France FRA 4 4 6 14
Turkey TUR 3 2 2 7
Finland FIN 3 1 11 15
Islamic Republic of Iran IRI 2 2 1 5
Canada CAN 2 1 2 5
New Zealand NZL 2 0 0 2
Poland POL 1 4 4 9
Czechoslovakia TCH 1 4 1 6
Bulgaria BUL 1 3 1 5
Ireland IRL 1 1 3 5
Denmark DEN 1 1 1 3
Norway NOR 1 0 2 3
Mexico MEX 1 0 1 2
Brazil BRA 1 0 0 1
India IND 1 0 0 1
Yugoslavia YUG 0 3 0 3
Chile CHI 0 2 2 4
Belgium BEL 0 2 0 2
Argentina ARG 0 1 1 2
Republic of Korea KOR 0 1 1 2
Iceland ISL 0 1 0 1
Pakistan PAK 0 1 0 1
South Africa RSA 0 0 4 4
Austria AUT 0 0 2 2
Greece GRE 0 0 1 1
The Bahamas BAH 0 0 1 1
Uruguay URU 0 0 1 1

Most successful competitors

Athlete Nat Gold Silver Bronze Total
Ágnes Keleti HUN 4 2 0 6
Larysa Latynina URS 4 1 1 6
Viktor Chukarin URS 3 1 1 5
Valentin Muratov URS 3 1 0 4
Murray Rose AUS 3 0 0 3
Betty Cuthbert AUS 3 0 0 3
Bobby Joe Morrow USA 3 0 0 3
Lorraine Crapp AUS 2 1 0 3
Dawn Fraser AUS 2 1 0 3
Edoardo Mangiarotti ITA 2 0 1 3

All medalists at these Games