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A Fighting Fathers Tribute to Olympic Boxing


Those Unforgettable Games


Those Unforgettable Games

by Mike C. Ryan

Young Michael Ryan (of The Age) relives the 1956 Olympics

"Where boxers' boots scuffed in the resin box, soft shoes dipped daintily."

A remembered line from my report at the 1956 Olympic Games, the day the boxing gave way to gymnastics. My first big job as a cadet on The Age.

Melbourne Festival Hall was brand new, built after the old West Melbourne Stadium fortuitously burned down. On a bench behind and above sat the famed boxing writer, founder of The Ring magazine, Nat Fleischer. Next to Nat an Irish journalist who was to weep piteously when his boxer got jobbed.

But before the gong rings, come mingle with the proud Melbourne mob. We watched Ron Clarke run to light the flame in Melbourne Cricket Ground, sparks singeing his arm unheeded. Walking back up to central city twenty abreast all wearing a foolish smile. Our town!

For a month before the Games we'd watched our boxing squad train in the Russell Street Police Headquarters. Tony Madigan handed out cruel beatings to the Australian professional light-heavyweight champion.

Madigan, the son of two dentists, had beaten a Russian middleweight at Helsinki in 1952.

Not so in 1956. At "Dudley Street" (as we called Festival Hall) boxing sessions ran afternoon and evening to mostly full houses. Our man Tony lost first fight to Russian light-heavy, Romualdas Murauskas. Romualdas then lost to the eventual gold.

Madigan was to win Olympic bronze against Cassius Clay at Rome 1960 and gold medals in Commonwealth Games 1958 and 1962.

In November 1956, Australia's team coach was the professional master, Ambrose Palmer. His personal pupil, Max Carlos, was next favourite.

Carlos, from Shepparton, Victoria also struck a reef, outpointed by the ebony United States light-welterweight, Joe Shaw.

Bronze medal for
the home State

Another country Victorian, Kevin Hogarth brought cheer to the homeland. With his peppery left, Hogarth from Mildura beat welterweights from New Zealand and Hungary, before losing his semi-final to Fred Teidt of Ireland. Green-shirt Teidt was among the most powerful men in the tourney and when he got robbed in the final against a drab Romanian, hundreds booed while an Irish reporter sobbed openly.

Victoria's light-middleweight, Peter Read was up against a much bigger Jose Torres of the USA. Stocky Pete got off the deck to run it close.

Torres lost the final to multiple Games champion, Laszlo Papp.

Later Read was Australian pro champ; and Torres world pro champ, who thumped our Bob Dunlop in Sydney.

Victorian bantamweight Bobby Bath had earned his Olympic team place in an unforgettable fight with Wally Taylor. Bath outboxed Hema Jayasuriya of Ceylon, a police lieutenant, before losing to Soon Song of, Korea, who went to silver. Bantam losers that week included Fred Gilroy and Eder Jofre, world pro champs of the future.

Mr Bath became a senior schoolmaster at Ballarat Grammar.

All nine Aussie boxers completed the tourney without a stoppage. Three Queenslanders were flyweight Warner Batchelor (he beat a Pole), featherweight Noel Hazard and middleweight Howard Richter.

West Australian lightweight, Billy Griffiths was outpointed by Louis Molina from California, a world pro champ to be.

Heavy deals

And our Heavyweight? Graham Robinson of Geelong was the Australian heavyweight champion. He gave ABA officials lip, so they matched him up with ruthless Tony Madigan, who thrashed Big Robbie and gave them excuse to leave the top weight empty in the Australian team.

The heavyweights in the Games have left a strong memory. Pete Rademacher of the USA finished with the gold medal - and in due course made his pro debut against Floyd Patterson for the world heavyweight championship.

Rademacher kayoed a Czech, stopped a South African and took the gold against Lev Moukhine of the Soviet Union.

I've always reckoned Moukhine got a raw deal. The dauntless Russian rose from a knockdown to KO 3 a Bulgarian. Lev got off the deck to KO 1 a Swede. Lev rose from a knockdown to KO 3 the Italian hitter, Bozzano. We were struck by his get up and go.

Why didn't the referee allow for Lev Moukhine's proven recuperation, let him keep going against Rademacher? But no, he hoisted the American arm.

First up pro, Rademacher was to deck Champ Floyd. The pro ref let it run till Floyd flattened Rademacher.

The missing home colours

Amateur boxing has changed for better and worse since 1956. First the national uniforms: our boxers wore the green and gold sash and green and gold piping on white shorts. So much better than now all identity blotted out - several hundred boxers, representing scores of countries, indistinguishable. All blue or all red.

Are today's amateur judges incapable of distinguishing one boxer from the other? No such trouble in the professional sport.

And the headguards that conceal a performer's personality. From ring entry to exit, the crowd sees no profile, hardly even a face to identify with.

Back then the Olympians boxed three three-minute rounds. Nine minutes of action with two minutes rest. Now they go 4 x 2s, three minutes rest to eight minutes action. The old scale was more strenuous though it may be today's 4 x 2s make the pace faster.

. . BACK to where we came in. Festival Hall went over to gymnastics on the second week of the Games. Those beautiful women (I suppose there were men's events too) transfixed the reporter. We had visited the Olympic Games Village at Heidelberg, and fallen for them. Elisa of Italy so much so this reporter bought an Italian dictionary and began to learn the language.

In decades since, we sat press row at the Thrilla in Manila, at heavyweight title fights in Madison Square Garden, New York. For boxing to remember, November 1956 in Melbourne topped all.

Mike Ryan

Mike C Ryan

A veteran newspaperman who has covered all departments,
but his long-lasting hobby has been to work ringside,
which he's done since the Melbourne Olympics of 1956,
right through to Madison Square Garden in 2004.

MIke went electronic for the new millennium and is now
editor of Fighter Online (www.Fighter-Online.com)


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