The 1956 Winter Olympics were held in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy. For the first time, there was a massive global audience as television beamed images of Olympic skiers and skaters around the world.
The Games was notable for the first appearance by a Soviet Union team, who quickly had a lot to celebrate. They won 16 medals, including seven gold, to lead the medal table. Their speed skaters won three of the four events, while their ice hockey team ended Canada’s domination of early Olympic tournaments.
Toni Sailer, a 20-year-old Austrian plumber and future movie star, outraced his competitors by huge margins in his alpine skiing events. Nicknamed the Kitzbuhel Cannonball, he won all three men’s alpine races - the first clean sweep in Olympic history. He began by winning the giant slalom by 6.2 seconds, the largest margin of victory in the history of Olympic alpine skiing. He then won the slalom, recording the fastest time in both runs, and the downhill by 3.5 seconds.
Australia at these Games
Australia sent a 10-person team to compete in the 1956 Winter Olympics. The team included Christine Davy, the first woman to represent Australian in alpine skiing.
Colin Hickey, the colourful character from Melbourne who was nicknamed “rink rat”, gave Australia one of its best winter performances ever when he finished seventh in both the men’s 500m and 1500m speed skating events. In both events his times – 41.9 seconds and 2 minutes 11.8 seconds – would easily have won gold medals at the previous Olympics. In 1993 he recalled some of the more primitive aspects of life as an Olympic team member: “In 1956 I was issued with no gear at all, even though I was the best performed member of the team… I couldn’t march without any kind of uniform, so I stayed in the hotel.” Hickey had learned to skate at the Melbourne Glaciarium, selling newspapers each night so he could save up and buy his own pair of skates.
Also in the Australian Winter Olympic team were alpine skiers Anthony Aslangul, William Day, Frank Prihoda and James Walker; and figure skaters Mervin Bower, Allan Ganter, Charles Keeble and Jacqueline Mason.