Fantastic Voyage (My trip to the 1956 Olympics), by Jim Dunaway (reprinted courtesy of Walt Murphy News & Results Service

James Dunaway, photo courtesy of USA Track & Field

Jim Dunaway wrote the following story, at the request of Walt Murphy, for his readers. As most of our readers know, Jim Dunaway, life long track fan, life long chronicler of all things track & field, and a person who loved a good story, told well. 

Enjoy the chronicles of James Dunaway on the 1956 Olympics...

Walt Murphy's News and Results Service

(c)Copyright 2015-all rights reserved. May not be reprinted or retransmitted without permission.

To coincide with the  50th Anniversary of the 1956 Olympic Games in 2006, I asked Jim Dunaway to share the tale of his trip to the first of what would be 14 consecutive Summer Games (including the 1980 "Boycott" Games in Moscow) he would cover as a journalist. In addition to the Olympics, Jim also covered eleven World Outdoor Championships(Through 2007), almost 50 NCAA Outdoor Championships, all but two or three U.S.  Outdoor Championships over the same period,  and various World Cups, European Championships,  World Indoor Championships -- and literally hundreds of invitationals, relays, and conference championships, indoors and out, far too mamy to count.  

He had been a contributor to Track and Field News for almost 50 years,  written many stories for the NY Times, and had worked tirelessly to improve working conditions for journalists in pressboxes throughout the U.S.

   I've considered Jim my mentor for many years, both as a writer and also as a TV "consultant", a role he filled with ABC at the 1968-1972-1976-1984 Games and with NBC's Triplecast at the 1992 Games in Barcelona. His story is a long one, but one well worth reading by any fan of the sport who has traveled some distance to a meet or who shares Jim's philosophy--"To paraphrase Will Rogers, 'I never met a track meet I didn't like'".)

Fantastic Voyage (My Trip to the 1956 Olympics)

by Jim Dunaway

Early in 1956, I was working as a copywriter at Leo Burnett Company, a Chicago

advertising agency. I had been thinking about going to the 1960 Olympics in Rome, but

the Cold War was getting pretty hot, and I thought that by 1960 there might not be any

Olympics, or even any world.

So I decided to take a shot at Melbourne. I had a couple of thousand dollars saved up,

and I had an idea for a way that I might earn some money at the Games, as a journalist.

My idea was to cover the Games for newspapers which had a local athlete competing in

Melbourne, but wasn't going to send one of their own reporters.

[You have to remember that the Olympics were nowhere as big a deal as they have become

since the advent of television. For example, there were only 70 press spots reserved for

Americans in Melbourne. Only a few American papers had anyone there to cover the Games

and those that did sent just one].

So  I called up the U.S. Olympic Committee, then based in Chicago, and made an

appointment to see Kenneth L. "Tug" Wilson, who was then the executive secretary

of the USOC. I told him what I wanted to do, and he said something like "That's a good

idea!" and right then and there I was approved for accreditation.

Shortly after that, the men's U.S. Olympic Trials were held in Los Angeles, with the top

three in each event making the team. When the list was published, it included their home

towns, and I looked up the newspapers for each one. Then I wrote a letter to the sports

editor of 34 different papers.

There was one problem: I had never written a news story in my life. On the other hand,

those sports editors didn't know that. I didn't have any doubts about my ability to do the

job, but I didn't want to lie about my qualifications. And I had learned a lot about selling

things while writing ads.

So I got a letterhead printed up that looked like I was a freelance journalist, with a corny

type face called Cheltenham Bold, and called myself  "Hometown Features," which

actually was a pretty good description of what I intended to do.

Then I wrote a letter which made it sound like I had been writing about sports for years.

I didn't ever say I was an experienced sports writer, I just made the letter sound like I

knew what I was doing.  To the sports editor of the Valley Morning News of San Benito,

Texas, it went like this:


  "Dear Mr. Soandso,

     How would you like to get complete, low-cost coverage of Bobby Morrow's Olympic

     performance in the Olympic Games -- direct from Melbourne?

     Hometown Features will be there, officially accredited by the U.S. Olympic Committee,

     and our package of four stories will cover Bobby from the moment he lands in Melbourne

     till the finish of his last race."

Then I went on and outlined what the stories were going to cover in enough detail so that

the editor could envision how he could use the stories in his paper, told him what the

price would be and so on, and enclosed an order form and a return envelope.

I guess my sales letter was convincing, because nobody questioned my writing skills. In

fact, one of the five papers I ended up working for actually wrote to say they'd agree to my

proposal only if I were personally doing the coverage and not one of my employees!

By that time, I'd decided that if I were going to go halfway around the world to Australia,

I might as well come back via Asia, Africa and Europe and see for myself that the world

really is round.  So one day in late July 1956, I walked into my boss' office and said,  "I'd like

to take a year's leave of absence, starting September first." 

This was the 1950s, and nobody had ever asked for a year's leave of absence before. Most of

the people at the agency thought I was crazy. But they eventually said, "Okay," and

I started packing.

I had one advantage over most travelers. My father worked for Texaco, and he managed to

get me a free ride to Australia on a couple of oil tankers. So on September 1, Doug Stuart and I

got into a driveaway car and headed for San Francisco via the fabled Route 66. Doug was an

Australian high jumper (6-8 1/4) who attended Michigan State, and he needed to get home to

try out for the Australian Olympic team.

We checked in at the Texaco office in San Francisco, and a few days later we boarded

the Margaret Onstad, a Norwegian tanker chartered by Texaco to transport Indonesian

crude oil to California, and then deadhead back to Sumatra, where the crude was produced.

Lucky us! Doug and I were put in the owner's cabin, where we had real beds and a real

bathroom. We ate our meals with the captain, the first mate, and the chief engineer, all

Norwegians, as was the crew. The captain was Nick Dahl, who had first gone to sea as a

12-year-old and worked his way up while continuing to go to school. He was also a member

of the famous Bislett Club of Oslo, and he knew a lot about track and field. Outside of a few

students I had known, and athletes like Doug and Kevan Gosper of Michigan State, these

were the first "foreigners" I'd ever met, and while the Norwegians were courteous and

friendly, they regarded the United States as a sort of "800-pound gorilla".

We sailed across the Pacific non-stop to Sumatra. What I remember best about the trip

was lying at the bow and sunbathing while watching the flying fish scoot

along and above the ocean surface as we cut through the water. It was a very peaceful

three weeks.

We cut through the Philippines just north of Mindanao and into the South China Sea. Two or

three times we passed small islands, with beautiful beaches and palm trees, looking just

like the kind of island in everyone's dreams. I wished we could have stopped and gone

ashore for a couple of hours.

We turned the corner south of Singapore, and anchored in an inlet called Sungai Pakning.

Doug headed to Singapore, where he would fly to Sydney and try to qualify for the Games

without success (those three weeks on the tanker with no place to train were too much to

overcome). I said goodbye, and soon found myself in a village of a few hundred houses

which, in spite of the jungle all around it, looked like an American suburb. Almost all

the people who lived there were American oilmen and their families, and they had

brought their environment with them, swimming pool and all. They were even working

on building a nine-hole golf course.

One Texaco man I met there was Ross Nichols, who finished 5th in the 110-meter hurdles at the 1928 Olympic Trials. The oil was amazing. It was so close to the surface, and the ground was so soft, that you could actually see the rotary drill slowly going down.

After a couple of weeks, I caught an Australia-bound tanker bound for Sydney, with

British officers and a crew from Goa(a state in India). It was at the time of the Suez War, and then the Hungarian Revolution, and I kept up with the news bulletins from the radioman and wondered if

there would be any Olympics by the time I got to Melbourne. I also learned to play darts.

The tanker docked in Botany Bay, a few hundred yards from the spot where Captain

Cook first landed and laid claim to Australia for Great Britain. A day or two later I took

a train to Melbourne. It's easy to remember the date -- November 5 -- because it was Guy Fawkes Day and that night as we sped through the countryside there were many bonfires. 

The next day, I picked up my press credential in Melbourne. I found a room above

a pub called Young and Jackson, amazingly a short walk from the Melbourne Cricket

Grounds, the main Olympic Stadium, known as the MCG.

A word about Young and Jackson. I had stumbled on to the most famous pub in

Melbourne, and maybe in Australia. By law, any place that served drinks had to have

rooms for guests, but most Melbourneans thought of Y&J as just a place to drink and

were surprised when I told them I was staying there.

Young and Jackson was famous because behind the main bar was a huge painting of

a nude called "Chloe." Australian beer was (and may still be) a lot stronger than

American beer, and Australians drank a lot of it. And because the pub was just

across the street from the main railroad station, a lot of commuters would stop in

for a beer or two after work.

Australia was in many ways still very Victorian, and one of the ways was that the pubs

had to stop serving at 6 p.m. After that, the customers had 15 minutes to finish their

drinks before the bartender said, "Time, gentlemen!" So, many of the customers

would order several beers just before 6:00 -- as many as eight or ten -- and then

proceed to polish them off in 15 minutes before staggering across the street to

take the train home.

My press credential was a badge -- a bronze oval shaped like a track with a ribbon

that said "Press." With it, I could go anywhere. The trams and busses were free,

the training and competition venues were open to me, I could walk into the Olympic

village at any hour of the day or night as long as I had my badge. 

Australians love to gamble. As the saying goes, if there are two flies on a wall, they

will bet on which one will move first. I found this out a few days after I arrived, on

the day of a horse race called the Melbourne Cup. It's like the Kentucky Derby, only

multiplied by twenty. I was on a tram that afternoon, and suddenly the tram stopped

in the middle of a block, and everybody trooped into a  pub to listen to the Cup on

the radio. After the race was over -- and some money changed hands -- we all got back

on the tram and off it went.

There was a practice track not far from the MCG, and quite a few times I went there

to watch Kevan Gosper and Chris Brasher, among others, train. The head starter of

the Games, Julius "Judy" Patching, spent hours there helping sprinters from many

countries practice their starts. A real gentleman.

The most popular practice track was just outside the Village. There, one could not

only watch the athletes train, but get into conversation with them. I spent several

hours with Lee Calhoun (I was covering him for the Gary (Indiana) Post-Tribune)

watching him work out and chatting with him about hurdling and sprinting. Once

I joined a group clustered around Emil Zatopek; he was amazingly relaxed as he

cracked jokes and talked about his training for the Olympic marathon.

I was also covering a couple of basketball players for the Oklahoma City Times and

the Amarillo News-Globe, and I would watch them practicing and then go eat with

them in the Olympic Village dining hall.

There were several pre-Olympic track  meets. They were really needed because most

of the athletes were from the Northern Hemisphere and hadn't competed for several

months, to say nothing of having traveled thousands of miles to get to Australia.

On November 10 I rode a train with some of the American team to a meet at

Puckapunyal Army Base; I had a long conversation with Bill Dellinger (a junior at

Oregon), and another with Parry O'Brien, who 10 days earlier in Los Angeles had

raised his shot put world record to 63-2.

A few days later, there was a meet near Melbourne in Geelong, John Landy's home

town. He didn't run, but there was a terrific two-mile, won by Chris Brasher (later

to win the Olympic steeplechase) in 8:45.2, with American Phil Coleman second

in a national record of 8:47.8. On November 17, there was a meet at Bendigo, a

country town, where Jack Davis beat Lee Calhoun by two meters with a stunning

13.3 high hurdles time. After the meet the ladies of the town served all the athletes

and most of the spectators in a big hall with long tables and lots of home-cooked

food...real old-fashioned country hospitality.

One pre-Games moment sticks in my memory. It was when I got Lee Calhoun to

come to the Olympic pool and introduced him to diver Jeanne Stunyo. They were

both from Gary, but had never met. I took a picture of Jeanne leaning down from

the diving board as Lee reached up, and sent it to the Post-Tribune. The paper got

their money's worth from those two. Lee won the gold in the 110-meter hurdles

and Jeanne took the silver in springboard diving.

Finally, the Games began. I don't really care much for parades, but the opening

ceremony was something special -- elegant in its simplicity. It began with a band

playing as the athletes marched in, country by country, and then stood behind their

flags in the infield. After a couple of two-minute speeches, the band played the

Olympic hymn, world record holder John Landy (3:58.0) took the Olympic oath

in the name of all the athletes, and an 18-year-old Aussie athlete named Ron Clarke

ran into the stadium with the Olympic torch, ran around the track holding it high,

and then climbed the stadium steps to light the flame. Prince Philip said, "I now

declare open these Games of the Sixteenth Olympiad of the modern era," and

everybody cheered. Then the athletes marched out as the band played.

That was it. No folk dancing. No mass calisthenics. No spectacular pageant

recounting the glorious history of the host nation.

Just the athletes.

I remember thinking that this was the first parade I'd ever really enjoyed.

In the days before the Games I'd already written articles on each of the athletes I

was covering. The first was about their arrival in Melbourne and life in the Olympic

Village, and the second was about how they were training. As the competition

began, my third and fourth articles were written about each athlete's prospects and

chief opponents.

I was typing like a maniac on my old Royal portable. I wrote more than 30 stories

in three or four weeks.  I wish I had saved them, or the clips.

The Olympic Stadium had originally been built for cricket, hence its name,

the Melbourne Cricket Grounds, or MCG. It held more than 100,000, and despite

the fact that there were less than 15 million Australians, they pretty much filled it

every day of the Games.

The 'press stand" was the only part of the stadium which was covered. It was the

part of the MCG which was ordinarily reserved for members of the Club. Not only did

the press have the best seats in the house -- right on the finish line -- but just

behind us was a cozy little members bar, which for the Games was the press bar,

where we could get cold Australian beer and delicious sandwiches. And when

there was too much action to leave our seats  (there was no TV, remember), young

vendors came around frequently with delicious hot meat pies.

I don't remember all the reporters I met there, but they all treated me as an equal,

probably because while they knew a lot more about journalism than I did, I  could

hold my own about track and field. I remember once being on a taxi ride with

Jesse Abramson of the New York Herald Tribune, Allison Danzig of The New York Times, and John Lardner of Newsweek(Many T&F writing awards are named after Abramson). We must have been going to some non-track event, or to a restaurant. Cordner and Bert Nelson I knew from Track  Field News. Others I became friends with included Mary Snow and Roy Terrell of Sports Illustrated (Roy later became the editor), and Milton Marmor of the Associated Press, the only reporter present when Roger Bannister ran the first sub-four-minute mile.

There was no instant replay or big-screen TV. If you wanted to know what happened,

you had to watch -- and watch closely -- and take notes before it all became a blur in

your mind. Results were announced on the scoreboard, and you better write them

down in your program, just like the paying customers, because the results weren't

printed up and handed out to the press as they are today.

Outside of an excellent team brochure put out by the USOC, you had to supply your

own information, your own stats, your own biographical data. The only person there

who was fully equipped to cover the Olympic was Jesse(Abramson). He had it all in his head.

It was an exciting month.

When it was over, I traveled around Australia for two months, then went

through 23 other countries in Asia, Africa and Europe before finally arriving

back in the United States on another Texaco tanker which landed me in

Portland, Maine.

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