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1956 Olympics - the Women's history

1956 Summer Olympics

Hosted “down under" in the Southern hemisphere, where their seasons are opposite. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, for starters, equestrian had to take place in Stockholm due to quarantine regulations in Australia. That event started in June whereas the “summer” Olympics started in November. Then, for their own reasons, seven countries withdrew their participation: China, Netherlands, Switzerland, Spain, Israel, Egypt, and Iraq. There were also financial concerns that the facilities would be finished in time (what’s going on in Brazil right now is not a new phenomenon to the Olympics) but they pulled it off in the nick of time.

But, one good tradition came out of the ’56 games that’s still followed today – the format of the closing ceremonies. In the past, athletes paraded in behind their flag, just like the opening ceremonies. But it was John Ian Wing from Melbourne, Australia that suggested that the athletes mill around each other as they paraded around the arena. In his letter to the Olympic organizers, “During the Games there will be only one nation. War, politics and nationalities will be forgotten. What more could anybody want if the world could be made one nation.”

376 women competed in the ’56 games, making 11% of total competitors.


Australian Dawn Fraser won two gold medals: the 100m freestyle and the 4x100m relay. Earlier in 1956, she broke the world record that was held for 20 years by Willie den Ouden. At the Olympics, it was the first time she swam in a heated pool and the first time her parents got to see her swim competitively. The ’56 games were the first of three Olympics for Fraser.

Dawn Fraser

Americans swept the 100m butterfly with Shelley Mann setting an Olympic record of 1.11.0, .09 seconds ahead of the Silver medalist, Nancy Ramey who was only 16 years old! Mann also won Silver in the 4 x 100 relay. Like Wilma Rudolph, Mann contracted Polio at a young age and used sports to aid in her recovery.


American Pat McCormick continued her dominance in both the 3m springboard and the 10m platform.

Track and Field

An 18 year old stole the show by earning three gold medals as she won the 100 and 200m dash and the 4x100 relay. Betty Cuthbert, dubbed the "golden girl" of the '56 games, hailed from Australia and continued competing in the 1960 Olympics. She is the only athlete to have won Gold in the 100m, 200m and 400m events. She was known for her unique running style of a high knee lift with an open mouth.

Betty Cuthbert

Shirley Strickland won in 80m hurdles again and the 4 x 100m relay. She has now earned seven Olympic medals: three gold, one silver, and three bronze medals.

Mildred McDaniel

Setting a world record in high jump, American Mildred McDaniel won Gold for the first time in high jump for the US with a jump of 5’ 8”.​​ American Mildred “Babe” Didrikson tied in the 1932 Olympics but she was awarded Silver because of her jumping style. McDaniel used the same style, known as the flop instead of the scissor kick – the Frosby Flop was not around yet.


Individual events and now added to the Team All Around. The Soviet Union dominated by winning four Golds out of the seven events.


Women enter the K-1500 meter race for the first time. The Soviet Union took home gold.

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