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Melbourne 1956

Whereas the OMEGA Time Recorder was the main timekeeping innovation in 1952, swimming experienced its own revolution in Melbourne four years later with the introduction of the first semi-automatic timing device with a digital display, the Swim Eight-O-Matic Timer. However, finishing times were still measured with hand-held stopwatches by 24 timekeepers – three for each lane.

TECHNOLOGY

Swim Eight-O-Matic Timer

The latest invention was called the Swim Eight-O-Matic Timer, the first semi-automatic timekeeping device for swimming with a digital display. It was now possible to distinguish between two individual swimmers who finished at virtually the same time. Although finishing times were still recorded by timekeepers who pressed a button by hand, the comparison of the timekeepers’ watches, which had previously been the norm, was no longer necessary. The Swim Eight-O-Matic was initially welcomed with enthusiasm and approved by FINA, but four years later the timing was carried out manually once again. For the last time.

The automatictriggering of the start time meant that the swimmers “lost” around 0.2 seconds compared to the previous system, where all timekeeping was manual. Nevertheless, the swimming stadium, the most significant new construction for the first Olympic Games to be held in the southern hemisphere, witnessed eight world records. Two of them were set by 17-year-old Australian freestyleswimmer Murray Rose, who won three gold medals in the 400 m, 1,500 m and 4 x 200 m relay events.

Melbourne was hit by the first major boycott by eight countries. The reason: the Suez Canal was being fought over, while in Budapest the Hungarian Revolution had been quelled by Soviet troops. Holland, Switzerland and Spain stayed away because of the Hungarian revolt, China left because of Taiwan and Arab nations were absent because of the war on the Suez Canal.

ANECDOTE

Water polo as a fight freedom

A few weeks after the Hungarian revolution was quelled, the Hungarian and Soviet water polo teams faced each other in the penultimate round of the Olympic tournament in front of 5,500 mainly Hungary-supporting spectators in the swimming stadium. What would normally have been a hard-fought contest anyway got completely out of hand under the prevailing circumstances. Unpleasant words were exchanged, punches were thrown and players kicked each other. The referee sent off five players, the match was repeatedly interrupted and when the water began to turn blood red after Valentin Prokopopov attacked Ervin Zador, the match was abandoned a minute before the end with Hungary leading 4-0. Hungary were crowned Olympic champions.

Fifty years later, the legendary match became the subject of a documentary film entitled “Freedom’s Fury”. At the premiere in Ottawa in September 2006, Zador, whose blood had been shed in Melbourne, said, “For us, that match was much more than a sporting fixture. It was part of our fight for freedom and democracy. We won it at the Olympic Games but lost it on the streets of Budapest.” Zador is one of 38,000 Hungarians who were taken in by Canada in 1956/57. He was one of three players who were no longer part of the Hungarian team that participated in the Olympic Games in Rome four years later.


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