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Melbourne 1956: Olympic basketball debut for Australia

24 November 2016

AOC: On day three of the Games Australian men’s basketball made its Olympic debut, while rower, Merv Wood, competing in his four consecutive Games progressed to the final giving him a shot at a third Olympic medal.

ATHLETICS: Queensland refrigerator mechanic Hec Hogan won a bronze medal in the 100 metres, and 60 years later, he remains the last Australian to have won a medal in track’s blue ribbon event. Hogan had equalled the world record in 1954, clocking 10.2 on the grass surface of the SCG. In the Games in Melbourne, he looked a medal hope in the earlier rounds winning his heat and quarter-finals. In the final he ran 10.6 to claim the bronze behind American’s Bobby Morrow and Thane Baker. In later years more accurate photo finish timing revealed just how competitive he had been, finishing just 0.02 second behind the silver medallist Baker. Watch videos of this race video1, video 2

Two years later, competing at the 1958 Commonwealth Games, Hogan helped Australia to bronze in the 4x110 yards relay, but his performances in the individual events indicated he was not well. Eventually a doctor diagnosed him with leukaemia and gave him six months to live. He was in hospital in 1960 when the Rome Olympics were being held. On September 2, he watched the men’s 100 metres final, but passed away as the athletes cross the line.

Over the 1956 summer, Marlene Mathews had clocked world leading times in the 100 yards and 100 metres. But in the lead up to the Olympics, her teenage club mate at Western Suburbs, Betty Cuthbert, was looking the favourite defeating her in the Olympic trials and clocking a stunning wind assisted 11.1 100m and braking the world 200m record.

In the heats at the Olympics, Mathews struck first when competing in heat two she equalled Marjorie Jackson’s Olympic record of 11.5. But in heat four Cuthbert stamped her authority running an Olympic record time of 11.4.

The semi-finals were two hours later and Mathews continued her great form winning in 11.6.  But what could you make of Cuthbert’s form placing second to Germany’s Christa Stubnick in only 12.0. Cuthbert explained what happened in her autobiography:

“I got away to a good start, but I made the fatal mistake of mentally relaxing about three-quarters of the way up the track and Stubnick flashed past me. But it taught me a lesson. I knew I had to keep my mind on the job in the final. If I faltered for a split second, I could forget about a gold medal.”

BASKETBALL: Australia made its Olympic debut losing to Brazil 89:66. Peter Bumbers was the top scorer for Australia with 20 points. The Australian team was very multi-cultural mix with athletes born in Lithuania, Greece, Latvia and Malaysia.

BOXING: Australia’s best hope in the Games was Mildura’s Kevin Hogarth. Competing in the Welterweight (67kg) division, he won his first bout in the Games by decision, defeating New Zealand’s Graham Finley. Hogarth was on his way to winning Australia’s first medal in Olympic boxing for 48 years.

MODERN PENTATHLON: Day two of the Modern Pentathlon competition continued with the fencing event. Australia’s Neville Sayers, was performing best for the Aussies lying in 18th at the end of day two. Also representing the host nation were Sven Coomer and George Nicoll.

ROWING: Being held on Lake Learmonth in Ballarat, preliminary rounds continued in the Olympic Rowing competition. Competing in his fourth consecutive Games, now 20 years since his debut in 1936, Merv Wood was competing in the double sculls with Murray Riley.  On this day they won their recharge to progress to the final, where Wood would have a shot at a third consecutive Olympic medal.

WEIGHTLIFTING: Vern Barberis placed 11th in the Lightweight division, unable to match his bronze medal winning effort in Helsinki – Australia’s first ever Olympic weightlifting medal. He lifted 347.5 kg, just below his Helsinki effort of 350kg.

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