The Sailing Olympics and their roots - Melbourne 1956

by ISAF 
1956 Olympic Games Poster
The 1956 Olympic Sailing Competition was held in Melbourne, Australia.

The Olympic Games ventured out of Europe and the U.S.A. for the first time in 1956, and went south to Melbourne, Australia.


Five classes set sail at various locations on Port Philip Bay. The Finns were at Sandringham; Dragons and 5.5-Metres at Brighton whilst the Stars and newcomers, 12-Square Metre Sharpies, making their one and only Olympic appearance, were St Kilda.

The breezy sailing events suited Paul Elvstrom (DEN) as he picked up his third gold. Canada's Bruce Kirby was eighth overall in the Finn, but the Canadians Olympic triumph came in 1996 but his creation - the Laser - was introduced to the Games.

When the winds were light, the Scandinavian crews were untouchable in the Dragon with Swede Folke Bohlin, the silver medallist from 1948, and Dane Ole Berntsen taking gold and silver ahead of Lt Commander Graham Mann sailing the royal Dragon, Bluebottle, owned by the HRH Duke Edinburgh who had formally opened the Games at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.

New Zealand's Peter Mander and Australia's Rolly Tasker dominated the Sharpie with only Germany's Rolf Mulka (GER) coming in between the two and winning a heat. The fight for gold continued until into the last race with Tasker thinking he'd secured the title until a tangle at the final windward mark with the French boat. Tasker didn't protest but the Frenchman did and Tasker lost the gold despite ending up tied as Mander had three wins to the Australian's two.

1956 - Olympic Games
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In 1950 Thai Prince Birabongse Bhanudej Bhanubandh became the first Formula One driver from Thailand. He spent five years motor racing including two 24-hour Le Mans. But in 1955 he switched to sailing and he also became the first Thai sailor to fly the flag at the Olympic Games.

In 1956, the Thai Prince sailed with Luang Pradiyat Navayudh, but the pair did not fair so well, finishing only three of seven races ending the Games in 12th place. 1956 was not the last time the Olympics saw the Thai Prince as he competed in Rome 1960, Tokyo 1964 and Munich 1972.

The surveying, marking and buoying of the courses were undertaken by the Royal Australian Navy from H.M.A.S. Lonsdale, Port Melbourne, which also supplied the starting vessels for the events. The Australians used a clock face of eight buoys with the committee boat in the middle to set their course.

The Olympic Games moved back to Europe in 1960 and saw the biggest distribution of Olympic sailing medals. Though Rome, Italy was the host sailing took place in the Bay of Naples.

ISAF Olympic Games website