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Melbourne 1956 Olympic Games - the historical closing ceremony

Author imageAOC08 Dec 2016
Melbourne 1956 Olympic Games - the historical closing ceremony

Just a few days before the closing a single letter received by Sir Wilfred Kent Hughes, the chairman of the Olympic Games organising committee, changed the ceremony plans significantly for ever.

Day 17 – Saturday 8 December 1956

The final day of the Olympics started with the gold medal match in the men’s football, which resulted in a one-nil win for the Soviet Union over Yugoslavia. This was followed by the closing ceremony in front of 102,000 spectators.

Just a few days before the closing a single letter received by Sir Wilfred Kent Hughes, the chairman of the Olympic Games organising committee, changed the ceremony plans significantly for ever.


The backdrop to the Games was of political strife in the world, leading to a number of boycotts of the Games. Also largely athletes were not involved in the closing ceremony of the Games. With these things considered, 17-year-old Chinese-Australian, John Ian Wing wrote to Sir Wilfred Kent Hughes, the chairman of the Olympic Games organising committee:

“I believe it has been suggested that a march should be put on during the closing ceremony and you said it couldn’t be done. I think it can be done," he wrote.

“During the march there will be one nation. War, politics, and nationality will be forgotten…what more could anybody want if the whole world could be made as one nation. Well you can do it in a small way. This is how I think….no team is to keep together and there should be no more than two team-mates together.”

The idea appealed to Hughes, but it was mid-day Friday, the day before the closing ceremony. He moved quickly.

Friday evening in the village he held a meeting of the Chefs de Mission for each team. Of those able to attend at short notice, they all were in agreement. As this had not been planned there was no organised marshalling area and more bus runs were now needed to transport the athletes.

The short notice of this idea surprised particularly the spectators, as 500 athletes marched in from the eastern end of the MCG. Aussies Shirley Strickland, Betty Cuthbert, Dawn Fraser and Lorraine Crapp proudly led the march. There were tears from the crowd as they farewelled the athletes. They completed a circuit of the track.

The official party included IOC President Avery Brundage, Chairman of the organising committee Hon. W. S. Kent Hughes, and the Lord Mayor of Melbourne Rt. Hon. Sir Frank Selleck.

With those final words Brundage declared: “…I proclaim the closing of the 1956 Olympic Games…”

A fanfare of trumpets sounded, the Olympic flame was extinguished and a salute of guns are fired.

The flag was lowered, as the scoreboard read ‘Melbourne, the Olympic city, bids you farewell and bon voyage. Good luck Rome 1960.’

The announcer said warmly: ”We will always think of you in our hearts and will always have a welcome for you here.” Watch a video of the closing ceremony  HERE.

Australian’s had savoured those final days. There is always such anticipation before a Games, then they are over so quickly.

The 1956 Olympics were certainly a turning point in the history of the Olympic movement. By 1960 television broadcast rights had become a major factor and there were other changes with countries promoting their national reputation on supremacy at the Olympics. Athletes were able to achieve fame and fortune as earning power was more relevant.

The Olympics would never be the same again.


In 1986, AOC historian Harry Gordon sort to locate John Ian Wing. He wrote an article in Time Australia titled: ‘Where are you John Ian Wing?’ where he argued that his letter and following action had made a more enduring contribution to the Games than many athletes.

Within two days, Wing had been located in England, where he had been working as a builder since he moved there in the late ‘60s. He was brought back to Australia in 1986 for the opening of the Australian Gallery of Sport.

In 2000, he returned again for the Sydney Olympics and to visit an athlete village street named in his honour. On the fiftieth anniversary in 2006, he was again welcomed back to Melbourne for celebrations.

During Gordon’s discussions with Wing, he learned the 17-year-old boy had not been able to afford to attend the closing ceremony. Actually at the time of the closing ceremony he went to the movies. When can came out of the movies, he watched replays of the closing ceremony on a television in a department store window, and noted that: ‘The athletes seemed to be doing what I wanted them to do. But I wasn’t sure it was because of my letter or whether the organisers had planned it.’ In the papers on Monday they noted this anonymous idea and called for the writer of the letter to come forward. Wing didn’t come forward, he had not told his father about the letter and was frightened he might be upset.

David Tarbotton

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