There is a man who lives in Melbourne named Hicks. He is the leader of the Royal Australian Air Force Band and normally his repertory includes only such old standbys of the Empire as Waltzing Matilda and God Save the Queen, but of late Squadron Leader Hicks has forged to the front as one of the world's leading authorities on The Star-Spangled Banner. In the first two days of the 1956 Olympic Games he had to play the national anthem of the United States five times and when last seen was fast closing in upon the record now held by Miss Gladys Gooding who, during the baseball season, valiantly pumps the organ before Dodger games at Ebbets Field but by tradition must limit her performance to one rendition a day.
There were seven Olympic gold medals handed out in men's track and field on the first two days, and of these the U.S. collected five. They also collected three silver medals for second place and one bronze medal for third, and the latter wasn't really as shameful as it may sound in that particular event. Teammates had already won the first two places and the bronze medal was all that was left.
At this point the American approach may begin to sound a little greedy, but victories are what the Americans came down here for in the first place, and in the code of athletics they are simply living by a highly competitive golden rule. They couldn't disagree more with the foreign gentlemen who observed that "the only thing wrong with these Games is too bloody much Stars and Stripes."
But before American readers begin to burst with pride and others feel tempted to stop reading altogether, it might be wise to mention briefly the two victories that got away. In the 10,000-meter run, which became the most dramatic and colorful and exciting event of the opening days and is described at length by Roger Bannister (see page 16), a determined little runner from Soviet Russia named Vladimir Kuts simply ran off and hid from the rest of the world. But to Americans this only proved that if the U.S. has no distance man in the same class with Kuts, neither does anyone else, including the Russians.
December 3, 1956
The other non-U.S. champion was a New Zealander named Norman Richard Read who spent some 4½ hours of a dry, hot, windy day touring the streets of Melbourne only to end up right back where he started with a gold medal in the 50,000-meter walk. Read's victory may have been a surprise, or as much of a surprise as anything can be when one considers a pedestrian's chances these days, but otherwise the 1956 Olympics shaped up right from the start as an affair that was going to run strictly according to form.
Charlie Dumas, a 19-year-old citizen of Los Angeles, is the only man to have jumped seven feet and, although he didn't quite jump seven feet last Friday, he got close enough. He went over the bar at 6 feet 11¼ inches on his third try, while Chilla Porter, a bespectacled young Australian who had never come within three inches of that height in competition, couldn't quite make it and wound up second with an extremely fine showing of 6 feet 10½ inches. Third place went to Igor Kashkarov, who is a very fine high jumper but not quite good enough. So, after one desultory attempt at a world record in the fading twilight (he had already raised the Olympic mark by some three inches) Dumas allowed himself to be led off to the victory stand and there, flanked on his right by a slim young Australian and on his left by a sturdy young Russian, stood straight and quiet as Squadron Leader Hicks wound up the band and for the first time sent The Star-Spangled Banner rolling out across the vast green expanse of the Olympic stadium.
Saturday the tempo quickened. In the first race of the day, a semifinal heat of the 400-meter hurdles, 18-year-old Eddie Southern from Dallas, Texas whistled around the crushed brick track in 50.1 seconds to take seven-tenths of a second off the Olympic record. It was a beautiful exhibition but premature. In the finals two and a half hours later, it was Glenn Davis, the world record holder from Ohio, who ran the 50.1 and won the gold medal. Davis was in command all the way of a superbly planned and superbly executed race. Southern was second some seven yards back and Josh Culbreath, the third American, third. It was the exact order in which they finished last summer at the U.S. trials, and it was the first sweep of the 1956 Olympic Games for the U.S.
The two field event finals on Saturday were in the hammer throw and the broad jump. Almost everyone expected Greg Bell or perhaps his teammate, John Bennett, to win the broad jump, and that is the way it came out: Bell first with 25 feet 8¼ inches, and Bennett second with 25 feet 2¼ inches. Rafer Johnson, the U.S. decathlon star who might have got third, decided to pass up his chance for two medals in order to rest a knee twisted a few days before during pole vault practice, and the final place went to a virtually unknown Finn named Jorma Valkama. Because of the conditions, no one evidenced any great disappointment at which might normally be considered a subpar performance for the two American jumpers. Like the rest of Saturday's contestants they battled a stiff southwest breeze blowing straight down the runway, and the take-off area was a little less firm than it might have been. And at the Olympic Games—as Baron de Coubertin might have said if he had thought of it—to break records is not so important as to win.
The duel in the hammer between Harold Connolly, the schoolteacher from Boston, and Mikhail Krivonosov, the schoolteacher from Minsk, had long been tabbed as one of the highlights of the '56 Games. It turned out to be just that. The tall Russian, who looks strangely like Burt Lancaster, and the powerful American, who competes in one of sport's most virile events wearing a pair of ballet slippers, had been taking turns all summer and fall breaking each other's world record. As they stepped into the ring at Melbourne the record belonged to Connolly at 224 feet 10½ inches. When they stepped out of the ring the world record was still intact but the Olympic record had been broken by half a dozen men and it was Connolly who came out ahead. He made it on his next-to-last chance with a throw of 207 feet 3¾ inches, the big, shiny bronze ball thudding into the turf only six inches past the mark that bore Krivonosov's number. After it was over, Connolly said: "Sure, I was disappointed with my distance but, man, I was nervous. My hands were sweating so bad I could hardly hang on to the handle." Then how could he win under such great competitive pressure? "Krivonosov," said Connolly, "was nervous, too." Another Russian, Anatoliy Samotsvetov, was third, and like the remaining three finalists, Al Hall (United States, fourth), József Csermàk (Hungary, fifth) and Kresimir Raci? (Yugoslavia, sixth), his throw of 203 feet 8 1/2 inches was well past Csermàk's toss of 197 feet 11 1/2 inches which won the championship and set a record at Helsinki in 1952.
Then there was Bobby Morrow—and it isn't necessary to say too much about him. For one thing, despite his youth and the presence of such famed Olympians as Parry O'Brien and Bob Richards, this 21-year-old Texas sprinter arrived in Melbourne with perhaps the loudest fanfare and pre-Olympic publicity of any member of the great U.S. team. It is enough to say that, though 10 pounds underweight from a severe attack of virus when the team gathered on the West Coast to begin training in October, and 10 pounds overweight now after a slow recovery during which he lost a handful of warm-up meet races, Morrow went out and won the Olympic 100-meter dash just as everyone knew he would.
Morrow ran four races, three heats and the final, and didn't come close to losing even one. He loafed to a time of 10.4 in the first preliminary, which was the best of that round. Two hours later, over a relatively slow track, he equaled the Olympic record of 10.3 and did it much more easily than Teammate Ira Murchison, who looked pretty good himself. In Saturday's semifinal he turned in another 10.3, looking over one shoulder, and in the finals, racing smoothly into a strong and hindering breeze, he hit the tape in 10.5 with a yard of daylight showing at his back.
"To heck with the time," Morrow said, grinning (he didn't stop grinning for 30 minutes). "I just wanted to win."
Another U.S. runner, the 25-year-old Kansan Thane Baker, who picked up one silver medal in the 200 meters at Helsinki, got another one Saturday by beating out Australian Hector Hogan. Murchison saved fourth in a photo finish ahead of Germany's Manfred Germar and Trinidad's Mike Agostini.
Everywhere you looked there were Americans, and the sound of The Star-Spangled Banner was in the air.
Sunday in Melbourne was indeed a day of rest, but Squadron Leader Hicks must have had enough. On Monday when the competition resumed, his place was taken by the Australian Navy Band, and this body solved the problem of the national anthem the first time it came up: they only played The Star-Spangled Banner halfway through. Even so, they had to play it twice, for the 800 meters and the pole vault, but nothing they could have done would have taken anything away from the race Tom Courtney ran this cool, windy afternoon, 10,000 miles away from his home in New Jersey.
Certainly through the first three days of competition Courtney and his 800 meters had to rank with Kuts and his 10,000 as the high point of the Games. Going into the finals, Courtney knew there were three men he had to worry about: his teammate Arnie Sowell, Audun Boysen of Norway and Derek Johnson of Great Britain. He knew Sowell and Boysen had great early speed and that he must stick close, very close, to them all the way, and he knew that should either of them by some chance fail to set a fast pace he would have to do so himself, for there was Johnson and his finishing kick.
So that is the way Courtney ran his race. He went out ahead at the gun and then when Sowell went around him on the backstretch of the first lap Courtney picked up the pace, too, and hung in close behind. A stride or two back came Boysen and Johnson, and in a bunch they hit the first lap in the almost phenomenally fast time of 52.8 seconds. In the same order they went around the turn and down the back-stretch and into the turn for home, and it was then, as the four great runners straightened out in the race for the tape, that Courtney made his bid.
He moved out to the third lane to go around Sowell, forged ahead by a few inches, then a foot, then two. But suddenly there was a roar, and slicing in between the two Americans came Johnson.
"When he got a yard ahead of me there—I guess it must have been about 50 yards from the finish—I thought the race was all over," said Courtney much later in the dressing room. "I thought I had lost. I don't even remember what happened after that."
What happened was that Tom Courtney called up one last ounce of courage and drive from deep inside, caught the wobbling Johnson 15 yards from the finish line and then struggled ahead to win the U.S.'s sixth track and field gold medal of the Games by a matter of two feet. Boysen outfought Sowell for third. There was only six-tenths of a second between the four runners. Courtney's time was 1:47.7 for a new Olympic record, as all four broke Mal Whitfield's once proud mark of 1:49.2.
There was nothing quite so dramatic about the Rev. Bob Richards' pole vault victory except that he beat a very good man in teammate Bob Gutowski and became the first defending Olympic champion to repeat here at Melbourne in 1956. Richards' height was 14 feet 11½ inches, which broke his own Olympic record by one-half inch but failed to achieve the 15-foot standard he has made over 100 times during a brilliant career. Gutowski vaulted 14 feet 10¼ inches. The tall young Greek, Georgios Roubanis, who now goes to school at UCLA, was third.
Despite this onslaught by the U.S.A. on Olympic records, however, it remained for a dark-haired young Norwegian named Egil Danielsen to give track and field its first world mark. He came to Melbourne with the second best javelin throw in history, only a little more than three inches behind Janusz Sidlo's world record of 274 feet 5¾ inches. Here, on his third-from-last attempt, the 23-year-old Norseman sailed the slim white spear out into the air far down the field past the line indicating the old Olympic record, past the line indicating the world record and into the ground, where it stood quivering at 281 feet 2¼ inches.
So finally the band director got a rest. No Star-Spangled Banner this time. In fact, there wasn't even an American on the victory stand: Danielsen of Norway first, Sidlo of Poland second, Tsibulenko of Russia third.
There was one more final on Monday, and although it wasn't in the men's division at all it was probably the most important of the Games to most of the 100,000 in the stands, for it brought Australia her first gold medal. Blonde Betty Cuthbert out-legged German Fr√§ulein Christa Stubnick, who had a marked advantage when it came time to breast the tape but just couldn't quite get there in time, and Betty's teammate, Marlene Mathews, to win the 100 meters.
As far as Australia was concerned, at this moment, and not a second before, the 1956 Olympic Games became a success.