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  • Melbourne Olympics Celebrate 50th


    Clarke carries the torch, sparks flying, in 1956. 
    (ATR) Celebrations in Melbourne this week mark the 50th anniversary of the 1956 Olympics, the first held in the Southern Hemisphere. Sunday, an opening ceremony tribute at the Melbourne Cricket Ground included the lighting a replica caldron.

    Ron Clarke, the same runner who had the honor 50 years ago, lit the flame. Unlike 1956, Clarke did not burn himself from the shower of sparks emitted from the torches used for the Melbourne torch relay.

    He was cheered by 7,000 spectators who attended the ceremony. An athletes march included more than 300 athletes who competed in Melbourne, representing 30 nations.

    All of the 13 living 1956 gold medalists from Australia marched in the 90-member home team delegation, including Dawn Fraser, Betty Cuthbert and Murray Rose. Cuthbert, who led the delegation, won three gold medals on the track of the MCG in one week in 1956.

    Australia's senior IOC member, Kevan Gosper, was a 400m silver medalist.

    John Landy, 1500m bronze medalist, read the Athletes Oath, as he did in 1956.

    The headcount in 1956 was 3,258 athletes from 72 countries.

    The actual 50th anniversary for the open of the Melbourne Games is November 22. The Games ran until December 8, the latest in the year the Olympics have ever been held.

    Among the notable events from the Melbourne Games was the so-called "Blood in the Water" water polo match between Hungary and the Soviet Union. The match came days after Soviet forces quashed a revolt across Hungary, killing thousands.

    The bloody tag for the match resulted when a Hungarian player was punched by a Soviet team member, opening a head wound.

    Hungary won 4-0 and went on to win the gold.

    Despite the ugliness of the water polo match, Melbourne is also remembered as "The Friendly Games". They were the first to have the athletes mingle in the closing ceremony without division by country.

    The idea came from John Ian Wing, then a 17 year-old son of Chinese immigrants who lived in Melbourne. He came back to Australia for the ceremony from London.

    "The march I have in mind is different to the one from the opening ceremony, and will make these Games even greater," wrote Wang in 1956 to Melbourne organizers.

    On Sunday, he read the letter aloud at the MCG.

    "During the march there should only be one nation. War, politics and nationality will all be forgotten. It will show the whole world how friendly Australia is," Wang said.

    More from Melbourne this week at, for subscribers only.