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history of australian rowing at olympic games

Olympic Games—Melbourne 1956

The Swiss invented the Olympic boycott because of the Soviet invasion of Hungary thus denying the former FISA President, Thomi Keller, and likely Swiss double scull medallists, the opportunity to compete. Although the Swiss Government relented in time for the team to take part, there were no available aircraft to convey them to Australia. This experience made Keller realise that if sport was to be saved from ruination by politicians, that sportsmen and women would have to take charge of their own destiny.

The following is an extract from the Official Report of The Organising Committee for the Games of XVI Olympiad Melbourne 1956.

"In staging the rowing events of the Games the Organizing Committee encountered some difficulty. Neither of the two courses available at Melbourne, on the Yarra River and the Albert Park Lake respectively, measured to Olympic standards, the first one because the construction of a new bridge interfered with the division of the course into lanes and the other being too short and too shallow. A course outside Melbourne had to be found and at Ballarat in 1950, an inland sheet of water, Lake Wendouree, was selected.

"Detailed examination revealed that the consistent depth of Lake Wendouree failed to conform to international standards and in 1954 it was decided, after reconsideration, to use Lake Learmonth, several miles from Ballarat. This provided an excellent watercourse but, being in undeveloped country, was completely wanting in shore facilities.

"This lack prompted the Organizing Committee to further consideration of the use of Lake Wendouree and to request that the International Rowing Federation to reduce the permissible depth. This request being granted in 1955, the final decision was made to revert to Lake Wendouree. Ballarat civic authorities gave notable support to the Organizing Committee in staging the events.

"In May 1950 the Australian Amateur Rowing Council appointed as a sub-committee for the rowing events of the Games five members of the Victorian Rowing Association and one representative from every other State. This sub-committee along with the Organizing Committee examined the suitability of the proposed venues and planned course requirements and the staging of the regatta.

"At the time Lake Wendouree was selected there was ample accommodation for boats of the visiting crews in the three main boat-houses, Ballarat, Wendouree and Ballarat City. Shortly after the selection, fire destroyed the Ballarat City boat house and it was not until a week before the Olympic rowing that the new boat house was ready for occupation. With additional amenities added at the expense of the Organizing Committee, the three Ballarat and Wendouree boat-houses provided most suitable accommodation for the seventy-two boats and facilities for the crews of twenty five nations which contested the Olympic rowing events.

"The course, 75 metres wide and 2,000 metres long, was extended by the excavation of the shore in the starting area to provide a starting bay and in the finishing area to provide ample space for a faster finishing crews to stop after crossing the line.

"The starting bay was formed by a straight shore wall the full width of the course, with a jetty 82 feet long at either end of the wall projecting into the lake. At the end of the north jetty, a projecting platform level with the starting line was erected for the start judge. To the south of the southern jetty a third jetty was provided for crews, making repairs and adjustments. At regulated intervals along the two main jetties a wire hawser, controlled by two winches, was passed through pulley blocks for positioning the bows of the starting boats according to the length of the boats in the event being started. Each starting boat had tow winches fitted to the stern to which were fitted cables angled to the shore for drawing boats into position.

"The starter's stand was in the centre rear of the course, raised 4 feet above ground level and fitted with an amplifier, the events being started by flag fall and word of mouth. The starting post on the south side was 6 feet above the water level, 1 foot wide, painted orange with a 1-inch black line down the centre. On the north side was a 1-inch iron pipe, painted orange, 6 feet above water level. Both these posts were in line with the centre of the start-judge's platform, which was equipped with an amplifier, telephone communication to the starter and the judge, and a switch to operate the timing apparatus.

"Although only four crews were started in each event, five lanes were laid down, allowing the International Federation to select the four courses most suitable under the prevailing weather conditions. The lanes were marked by coloured discs – yellow, blue, red, white and green. The discs in the starting bay were placed 2 feet above the water level at the shore line and in line with discs 30 feet further back on the shore. At 500 metres intervals along the course discs 3 feet in diameter were suspended 12 feet above water level, marking the centre of each lane, with markers placed on shore at the finish. Both sides of the course were marked with yellow buoys placed at intervals of 100 metres down the course, with distance markers 4 feet square with black figures on an orange background on both sides of the course at the 500, 1,000 and 1,500 metres marks.

"The judges' stand with a tower containing the timing apparatus and the photo-finish equipment was erected on a neck of land running out into the lake on the north side of the course, the finishing post on the south side of the course being 8 feet above water level, 1 foot wide, painted orange with a 1- inch black line down the middle, and on the judges' stand, 6 feet apart, were two wires in alignment with the finishing post. In addition to the judges' stand a large double-decked stand for press and broadcasting was erected, as well as buildings for score-board and all the necessary offices. The Australian Broadcasting Commission, in addition to giving its normal broadcast services, was linked to the public address system and furnished a description of every event to the public.

"In addition to the main course, four training courses were laid down, one following around the north shore of the lake, linking into a course of 1,500 metres south of the main course, and two straight courses of 1,000 metres and 750 metres on the south side of the lake.

"Nine coaching launches, hired to the teams were able to meet all the requirements of the crews without resorting to compulsory rostering of training periods. Four launches enabled the umpires to be changed after every event; and two umpires were always ready at the start for the forthcoming event.

"The preparation of the lake for training and racing was made possible by the work of the Ballarat City Council which, with the aid of volunteers from local organizations, cleared 50,000 cubic yards of weeds from the lake, thus allowing the formation of sufficient training courses to ensure adequate facilities for all crews.

"In selecting regatta officials the main difficulty was to ascertain the number of international referees with FISA licences who would be present, as these must be approached first in setting up the Jury. Mr Gaston Mullegg, President of FISA, resolved the difficulty by offering to conduct an examination of Australian officials, and it was decided to give each State an opportunity to be represented in the examination for international referees, and to provide the minor officials for the control of the regatta from the Australians available. Twelve Australian officials qualified for a FISA licence and with the overseas officials formed the Jury. The successful conduct of the regatta was due to the efficient co-operation of all officials who combined together in a competent team.

"The guidance of Mr Mullegg in the final preparations for the regatta was invaluable, and his advice and aid quickly cleared up difficulties. He helped solve language problems, particularly at the FISA conference, at which the draw for the heats was made. Mr Mullegg conducted the whole meeting in three languages – French, English and German.

"The entry was most satisfactory; the number of crews starting were:

Pair-oars without cox: 9
Four-oars with cox: 10
Pair-oars with cox: 8
Four-oars without cox: 12
Double sculls: 8
Eight-oars with cox: 10
Single sculls: 12

"The programme provided twenty–one heats on Friday, 23rd November; thirteen repechages on 24th November; twelve semi-finals on 26th November; and seven finals on 27th November.

"In the conduct of the programme the time-table was adhered to strictly, and on 23rd November, when twenty-one heats were raced at intervals of 15 minutes, every event started at the scheduled time. It was unfortunate that during the repechages on 24th November, after a start had been made under ideal conditions, the sudden change of wind made the course very difficult and necessitated postponement of the remaining events to the next morning when conditions were more favourable and the programme was completed.

"Excellent racing was provided throughout the programme and on the final day, 27th November, the 30,000 people present were thrilled by the close racing and by the colourful Victory Ceremonies which followed.

"After the regatta, Mr Mullegg congratulated the Organizing Committee, the City of Ballarat, the Australian Amateur Rowing Council and officials on the excellent manner in which it had been conducted. On behalf of the International Rowing Federation Mr Mullegg presented the Medal Of Honour to Councillor K C Webb, the Mayor of Ballarat, to honour the outstanding work of the City and citizens of Ballarat in the preparation of Lake Wendouree and the entertainment of the visiting oarsmen.

"A Medal of Honour was also presented to Mr M S Williams, President of the Australian Amateur Rowing Council and to Mr N W Cairnes, the course manager, a presentation of a watch was made on behalf of the International Rowing Federation."


The Australian Amateur Rowing Council appointed a grading committee rather than a selection committee as all events were to be entered. Selection for the boat classes below were by test racing on 12th and 13th October 1956 at Ballarat. The eight was to be based on the winning Victorian Interstate Eight of 1956, the sculler to be the 1956 winning Interstate Sculling Champion and the coxless four comprised the second placed coxed and coxless pairs at the test races. The results of the test races were:

Men's Coxless Pair
Final: 1st North Shore NSW, 2nd Leichhardt NSW, 3rd Commercial QLD, 4th MUBC VIC. Margins: 3 and 1 lengths. Time: 7:46.8

Men's Coxed Pair
Final: 1st Albert Park VIC, 2nd Leichhardt NSW, 3rd Buckingham TAS, 4th Wendouree VIC. Margins: 2.5, 2.5 and 3 lengths. Time: 8:31.4

Men's Double Scull
Final: 1st Sydney NSW, 2nd Haberfield NSW, 3rd Buckingham/Derwent TAS. Margins: 3.5 and 0.5 lengths. Time: 7:23.4

Men's Coxed Four
Final: 1st Albert Park/Hawthorn VIC, 2nd MUBC VIC, 3rd Mercantile/MUBC VIC, 4th Queensland. Margins: 1 and 0.75 lengths. Time: 7:13.0

Bob Aitken, who was later awarded an MBE for services to rowing, was appointed sole selector for and coach of the eight. Mick Easton coached the coxed four and assisted other crews. Harry R Duncan unofficially coached the coxed pair. Spencer Grace and Greg McNamee unofficially coached the coxless pair.

Australian Team

Men's Single Scull - Silver

Men's Double Scull - Bronze

Men's Coxless Pair - Fourth

Men's Coxed Pair – eliminated in semi-final

Men's Coxless Four – eliminated in semi-final

Men's Coxed Four – Fourth

Men's Eight – Bronze

Manager: W Ray B Todd (VIC)
Selector for eight: R R (Bob) Aitken (VIC)


Mervyn Wood again had the honour of being Australia's flag bearer at the Opening Ceremony

Scullers Mackenzie & Ivanov

Men's Single Scull Gold & Silver Medallists

Mackenzie (right) congratulates gold medallist Ivanov (URS)


Men's Single Scull

E1: 1st URS, 2nd AUS, 3rd NZL, 4th AUT
E2: 1st YUG, 2nd GER, 3rd ITA, 4th GRE
E3: 1st USA, 2nd POL, 3rd GBR, 4th MEX
R1: 1st NZL, 2nd GRE, 3rd MEX (capsized and did not finish)
R2: 1st ITA, 2nd AUT, 3rd GBR
SF1: 1st URS, 2nd POL, 3rd NZL, 4th GER
SF2: 1st USA, 2nd AUS, 3rd YUG, 4th ITA
Final: 1st Viatcheslav Ivanov (URS) 8:02.5, 2nd Stuart Mackenzie (AUS) 8:07.7, 3rd John Kelly Jnr 8:11.8, 4th Teodor Kocerka (POL) 8:12.9 (12 scullers).

Nineteen year old Mackenzie's words after the race were simply: " Oh Gosh! How wonderful. But boy was it hard."

"The single sculls provided one of the finest finishing efforts of the regatta, when Viatcheslav Ivanov (USSR) came from fourth position at the 1500 metres mark to pass Kocerka (Poland) and Kelly (USA) and went after Mackenzie (Australia) who had led all the way, catching and passing him in the last 250 metres and going on to win the event from the Australian who was rowing in his first international race." —From the OC Official Report.

Men's Double Scull

E1: 1st USA, 2nd GBR, 3rd URU, 4th BEL
E2: 1st URS, 2nd GER, 3rd AUS, 4th TCH
R1: 1st AUS, 2nd GBR, 3rd BEL
R2: 1st GER, 2nd URU, 3rd TCH
Final: 1st URS (A Berkoutov, I Tiukalov) 7:24.0, 2nd USA 7:32.2, 3rd AUS 7:37.4, 4th GER 7:41.7 (8 crews)

"Schneider and Hipper (Germany) led in the early stages of the double sculls, closely pressed by the USA pair Costello and Gardiner, with the USSR third and Australia fourth. At the quarter-way mark the Americans took the lead from the Germans, but the perfect sculling of the Russians, Berkoutov and Tiukalov, gradually reduced the lead of the Americans and, just before the half-way mark, they took the lead from America, while the Australians, Riley and Wood, were challenged by the Germans for third position. The Russians went on to win comfortably from USA, with Australia third and Germany fourth." —From the OC Official Report.

Men's Coxless Pair

E1: 1st NZL, 2nd AUS, 3rd ITA
E2: 1st GER, 2nd DEN, 3rd BEL
E3: 1st USA, 2nd URS, 3rd AUT
R: 1st AUT, 2nd ITA, 3rd BEL
SF1: 1st URS, 2nd AUT, 3rd NZL, 4th DEN
SF2: 1st USA, 2nd AUS, 3rd GER, 4th ITA
Final: 1st USA (J T Fifer, D Y Hecht) 7:55.4, 2nd URS 8:03.9, 3rd AUT 8:11.8, 4th AUS 8:22.2 (9 crews)

"The USA gained the first of its three rowing victories in the pair oars without cox, taking the lead early from Raper and Grace (Australia) with Bouldakov and Victor Ivanov (USSR) third. The Russians made a big effort at 750 metres, and passed the Australians but could not make an impression on the Americans, Fifer and Hecht, who went on to win comfortably. The Australians, tiring after their early efforts finished fourth behind the Austrian pair Kloimstein and Sageder." —From the OC official report.

The stroke of the Russian pair Victor Ivanov was one the most disappointed people at the regatta after his medal was dropped into the lake. He failed to find it after much searching. The local school boys went searching after racing and 13 year old Andrew Hemingway found it. Ivanov greatly appreciated the work saying he now had the medal to prove his second placing and gave Hemingway a Russian Olympic badge and a lunch in the team hostel.

Men's Coxed Pair

E1; 1st URS, 2nd AUS, 3rd CHI
E2: 1st USA, 2nd POL, 3rd BEL
E3: 1st GER, 2nd AUT
R: 1st BEL, 2nd CHI
SF1: 1st POL, 2nd URS, 3rd BEL, 4th AUT
SF2: 1st GER, 2nd USA, 3rd AUS, 4th CHI
Final: 1st USA (A D Ayrault, C F Findlay, A K Seiffert) 8:26.1, 2nd GER 8:29.2, 3rd URS 8:31.0, 4th POL 8:31.5 (8 crews)

This was the first time at an Olympic Games that a front coxed pair was used. The Germans introduced this now standard design.

"In the pair-oars with cox event, the Polish and USSR crews shared the lead in the early stages from USA and Germany, holders of the European championship. Approaching the half way mark, the Americans were challenging Poland for the lead and the German crew moved past the Russians to third position. The Polish crew increased its rating in an effort to meet the American challenge, but failed and was then passed by the hard-finishing Germans, who failed to catch the USA crew, and the Russians who finished third." —From the OC Official Report.

Men's Coxless Four

E1: 1st CAN, 2nd GER, 3rd AUS, 4th DEN
E2: 1st USA, 2nd FRA, 3rd CUB
E3: 1st URS, 2nd HUN
E4: 1st ITA, 2nd POL, 3rd FIN
R1: 1st GER
R2: 1st FRA, 2nd FIN
R3: 1st AUS, 2nd HUN
R4: 1st POL, 2nd CUB
SF1: 1st CAN, 2nd FRA, 3rd URS, 4th POL
SF2: 1st USA, 2nd ITA, 3rd GER, 4th AUS
Final: 1st CAN (A A McKinnon, L K Loomer, I W d'Hondt, D J Arnold) 7:08.8, 2nd USA 7:18.4, 3rd FRA 7:20.9, 4th ITA 7:22.5 (12 crews)

"Canada gave one of the best exhibitions of rowing on the lake in winning the event for four-oars without cox. The European champion, Italy, was the first crew to show out at the start, closely followed by USA and France with Canada in fourth position. The steering of the crews was perfect, as Italy and France fought for the lead, with USA close up. At the half-way mark the Canadians, rowing perfectly, took the lead and kept going away, to win comfortably by five lengths from USA, with France third and Italy fourth." —From OC Official Report.

Men's Coxed Four

E1: 1st ITA, 2nd URS, 3rd NZL
E2: 1st SWE, 2nd DEN, 3rd FIN
E3: 1st USA, 2nd AUS, 3rd BRA, 4th CUB
R1: 1st NZL, 2nd CUB
R2: 1st FIN, 2nd BRA
SF1: 1st ITA, 2nd AUS, 3rd DEN, 4th NZL
SF2: 1st SWE 2nd FIN, 3rd URS, 4th USA
Final: 1st ITA (A Winkler, R Sgheiz, A Vanzin, F Trincavelli, I Stefanoni) 7:19.4, 2nd SWE 7;22.4, 3rd FIN 7:30.9, 4th AUS 7:31.1 (10 crews)

In the coxed four event, Italy led all the way to win comfortably from Sweden with Finland third and Australia fourth. The Australians were unlucky having been passed on the line. The Australians and the Italians fought out the first 500 metres before Italy took the lead. Sweden passed the Australians by the 1500 metre mark and Finland and Australia fought it out to the line.  Ian Allen said later:"We went for broke, but were too young, (Kevein only 17 and me 18) and couldn't hold the pace all the way after a fast start".

Men's Eight

E1: 1st AUS, 2nd CAN, 3rd USA, 4th GBR
E2: 1st TCH, 2nd JAP, 3rd FRA
E3: 1st SWE, 2nd URS, 3rd ITA
R: 1st USA, 2nd ITA, 3rd GBR. 4th FRA
SF1: 1st USA, 2nd AUS, 3rd URS, 4th JAP
SF2: 1st CAN, 2nd SWE, 3rd TCH, 4th ITA
Final: 1st USA (T J Charlton Jnr, D H Wight, J P Cooke, D A E Beer, C B Esselstyn, C L Brimes, R D Wailes, R W Morey Jnr, W R Becklean) 6:35.2, 2nd CAN 6:37.1, 3rd AUS 6:39.2, 4th SWE 6:48.1 (10 crews)

"The eight-oared event provided the most thrilling race of the regatta. In a perfect start the Australian crew took a slight lead in the early stages, hard pressed by Canada, with USA close up. At 400 metres, the Canadians led the Australians by about a metre, closely followed by the Americans, with Sweden holding on in fourth position. At the half-way mark, USA held the lead by a narrow margin from Australia and Canada, level, and Sweden falling back. Australia and Canada were making desperate efforts to overtake USA and Australia sprinted to take the lead momentarily, but as the sprint died away, America again went to the front, to win its eighth successive Olympic eights victory by a short canvas from Canada, with Australia close up in third and Sweden fourth." —From the OC Official Report.

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