1956 Olympics – 50 Years On

Olympians Ron Clarke with Bob Joyce, Marg Woodlock-McLean and David Boykett at the ’56 Returns to the ‘G Celebrations at the MCG on Sunday.  Photo by Sally McLean.
Pictured L-R: Olympians Ron Clarke with Bob Joyce, Marg Woodlock-McLean and David Boykett at the ’56 Returns to the ‘G Celebrations at the MCG on Sunday. Photo by Sally McLean.

1956 Olympics – 50 Years On
The Mail Newspaper
23 November, 2006
by Sally McLean

On a very busy weekend in Melbourne, four previous and current Mornington Peninsula residents, all of whom are also Australian Olympians, were fully occupied celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the 1956 Melbourne Olympics.

Activities included revisiting the Olympic Village at Heidleberg, a Welcome Reception hosted by Melbourne Lord Mayor, John So at the Melbourne Town Hall and the ’56 Returns to the ‘G celebrations at the MCG.

Several thousand spectators turned out on Sunday afternoon to re-live elements of the 1956 Olympic Opening and Closing Ceremonies, including former Dromana resident, now Gold Coast Mayor, Ron Clarke, lighting the flame, and former Governor of Victoria, John Landy, reading the Athlete’s Oath.

While not yet an Olympian in 1956 (he would become so in 1964 and again in 1968, as well as going onto hold 18 official world records from the mile to 20,000 metres), the pictures of then 18 year old Clarke lighting the 1956 Olympic cauldron would become iconic images forever etched into the historic fabric of the Melbourne Games.

“It was a great honour to be selected as the final torchbearer,” said Clarke about his involvement in the 1956 Opening Ceremony. “To have this wave of sound meet you, I think that was the most thrilling part.

A resident of Dromana in the late 1960’s, Clarke was delighted to catch up with Bob Joyce, Margaret Woodlock-McLean and David Boykett – all 1956 Olympians with whom he shares a bond beyond the Melbourne Olympics – that of having lived on the Mornington Peninsula.

Bob Joyce (Hurdles, 1956) of Sorrento and Margaret Woodlock-McLean (Shot Putt, 1956) of Mornington, protégés of legendary athletics coach Franz Stampfl (along with Clarke) agree that the Opening Ceremony was the true highlight of the Games.

“We heard them say ‘the host nation, Australia’ as we walked out of this dark tunnel into bright sunlight and the wall of sound that hit you – the roar of the crowd was just deafening,” Woodlock-McLean said. “And as we walked around the track I looked across the row of girls and every single one of us had tears. For me it was the most incredible overwhelming experience of pinching myself and saying, ‘am I really here?’”

Joyce agrees it was an emotional experience.

“The Opening Ceremony was very uplifting. It is an experience I will never forget, marching out onto that ground,” he said. “It was a very big emotional experience, a marvellous experience. And it’s a lifelong memory – you don’t forget something like that. That Opening Ceremony lingers in people’s minds forever.”

David Boykett (Rowing, 1956) of Rosebud and a 1956 and 1964 Olympian didn’t take part in the original Opening Ceremony, as he was based at Lake Wendouree in Ballarat with the other rowers. But he has many special memories of his time in the 1956 Olympics, including bringing home a bronze medal as part of the Rowing Eight.

Boykett can also claim a part in the mystery of the missing 1956 Silver medal – dropped overboard by mistake by a Russian rower during a medal presentation. The following morning Boykett dived into the murky depths of Lake Wendouree to try his luck at retrieving it and restore it to its rightful owner.

“I couldn’t see anything, so I felt around with my feet and hands. After about an hour, the news came through that another rower had beaten me to it and found it earlier that morning – so any rumours that it is still in the lake are untrue!”

He was enjoying catching up with not just his Australian team mates, but also the International athletes at the Celebrations, rekindling friendships and sharing memories.

In total over 300 Olympians from 16 countries have returned to Melbourne to celebrate their achievements and experiences during the 1956 Olympic Games. The celebrations will continue until November 22.

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