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Melbourne 1956 - Overview

A battle and a bouquet of boycotts

The Melbourne Games of 1956 were the scene of the most violently contested face-off in Olympic history when the water-polo semi-final pitched Hungary against the Soviet Union, whose tanks had rolled into Budapest just a few weeks previously.

Heavy with the mourning for the loss of their hope for liberty and thousands of dead compatriots, the Hungarians took to the pool with rage burning in their hearts.

The match of course turned into an outright fight and had to be stopped to prevent a literal blood bath with the pool already taking on a pink hue.

Hungary were leading 4-0 and went on to win gold.

Symbolic as this defeat was for the Soviet team they went on - often accompanied by vicious booing and howls of derision - to win 37 gold medals.

In particular, they excelled in the gymnastics competition where they won 11 gold, four from their all-time great Larissa Latynina (overall, team, horse and floor).

She eventually went down in Olympic history with a total of nine gold medals and along with Paavo Nurmi, Mark Spitz and Carl Lewis held the previous record for the most Olympic titles.

Fraser leads Aussie charge

The USSR also won six wrestling titles, three in weightlifting and three in shooting.

In athletics America's Bobby Morrow won the 100m, 200m and 4x100m golds and for the Soviets Vladimir Kuts won gold in the 5,000m and 10,000m.

The host Australians won 35 medals themselves more than tripling their haul from Helsinki four years earlier.

Their sprinter Betty Cuthbert won triple gold in the classic sprint events but it was the swimmers with eight gold that really impressed.

The great Dawn Fraser won the first of her three consecutive 100m freestyle titles.

For various reasons seven nations boycotted the Melbourne Olympics but none of them because Australia was so far away.

China stayed home in protest at the presence of their nationalistic enemies Taiwan while Egypt, Iraq and Lebanon declined to attend in reaction towards the Israeli attack on the Sinai.

Finally, the Netherlands, Spain and Switzerland were also absent as they stood in support of Hungary after the Soviet invasion of Budapest.

They were also the only Games to ever take place in two different countries. Because of animal quarantine regulations, the Swedish city of Stockholm hosted the show-jumping events.

Copyright 2008 Agence France-Presse.

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