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Torch relay handovers were 44 years apart

John Rogers, when he carried the torch in the 2000 Olympic torch relay.
John Rogers, when he carried the torch in the 2000 Olympic torch relay.

JOHN Rogers could not have known history would repeat itself.

As a 23-year-old, he ran in the Olympic torch relay of 1956.

Fast forward 44 years and the 68-year-old was taking more significant strides, running in the 2000 Olympic torch relay.

"I was offered the chance to carry the torch again and I grasped it with both hands," he said.

"To do it twice in your lifetime is something quite remarkable."

John's fascination with the Olympics started when he watched black and white news reels of Australian track champion Shirley Strickland competing in London in 1948.

In 1952, he watched her claim her first Olympic title in Helsinki, which further cemented his interest in the international sporting event.

The spritely 80-year-old is keen to share his relay experiences, surrounded by a selection of memorabilia in his den.

Pride of place is the commemorative medal he received for the 1956 relay.

Not far away is the torch he carried in 2000.

His sporting inventory includes a basketball signed by Aussie players from Seoul 1988, Australian cufflinks from the 1972 Munich Games, and even a souvenir Barbie doll from Atlanta in 1996.

 

1956 OLYMPIC TORCH RELAY

Greek runners took the flame to Athens.

The flame was transferred to a miner's lamp then flown by Qantas Super Constellation aircraft Southern Horizon to Darwin, NT.

An RAAF English Electric Canberra jet bomber flew it to Cairns, where it arrived on November 9, 1956.

John Rogers (left) transfers the flame to Ernie Hay.
John Rogers (left) transfers the flame to Ernie Hay.

The torch design was, with the exception of the engraved city name and year, identical to the design used for the 1948 London Games.

The first runner was Con Verevis, a local man of Greek parentage.

The flame was relayed down the east coast of Australia using diecast aluminium torches, weighing about 1.8kg.

The flame arrived in Melbourne on November 22, 1956.

The Olympic Flame was lit at the stadium by Ron Clarke, who burnt his arm in the process.

JOHN Rogers embarked on a 27-hour round trip by bus, steam train and truck to make a six-minute dash into Australian sporting history.

The Rockhampton man ran a one-mile leg on the 1956 Olympic torch relay, the first in the Southern Hemisphere. At 2855 miles (4600km) it was, at the time, the longest ever undertaken in the modern Olympic era.

The hand-to-hand relay was run virtually non-stop, 24 hours a day.

It started in Cairns on November 9, 1956, and arrived 13 days, one hour and 53 minutes later at the gates of the Melbourne Cricket Ground for the opening ceremony.

John Bell carries the torch on the stretch from Croydon to Sarina.
John Bell carries the torch on the stretch from Croydon to Sarina.

His photo album traces the relay as it wends its way down the east coast to the Queensland-New South Wales border.

As he flicks through its pages, he brings each black and white image to life with a colourful account of the runners, some of their quirky encounters and the wonderful friendships forged along the way.

"There I am," he says, pointing at one of five sepia photos on a left-hand page. "I'm the little fella at the back there, handing the torch to Ernie Hay."

The absence of photos showing John carrying the flame is then explained.

"I was dropped out there by myself," he says of his starting point, 85km south of Home Hill.

"I waited for about an hour for the torch convoy to arrive."

Just getting there was an adventure in itself.

John travelled by bus to Ayr, where he boarded a steam train bound for Home Hill. He then jumped on the back of a flat-top truck and was taken "33 miles down the track" to his designated relay position.

The eager 23-year-old did not sleep a wink along the way.

John was stationed in Townsville with the RAAF 10th Squadron when he was nominated for the relay.

He trained on the Strand, carrying a house brick in his right hand to simulate the diecast aluminium torch he would have to carry.

Torchbearers had to be capable of running the mile in seven minutes.

That proved no hurdle for John, a physical training instructor.

He completed the distance in six minutes - on Remembrance Day, 1956. He can rattle off details so succinctly you can easily forget it happened more than 50 years ago.

Decked out in all white, John waited anxiously on the dirt road for the lead truck of the convoy.

As it rumbled towards him, he knew the torch itself was only minutes away.

Right on cue torchbearer John Petersen, of Ayr, ran into view, a trail of white smoke heralding his arrival.

The two men worked meticulously to transfer the flame and John strode into action - and into history.

"I got the torch about 9.30am," he said. "I remember it was pretty humid - probably about 90 degrees Fahrenheit."

"We were on the Bruce Highway but it wasn't a highway at all. It was a bush track posing as a highway."

Despite some rugged terrain, John's run was incident free.

"In all, it was a remarkable adventure and an experience not to be forgotten easily," he says.

"In fact, the flame still burns deep within me."

 

TALL TALES

A TORCHBEARER'S bloodied knee and a black-headed python gave rise to one of the most amazing stories reported from the 1956 Olympic torch relay.

A cheeky grin wrinkles John Rogers' face as he recalls the incident but he defers to fellow torchbearer Jim Lindley to give his account of events.

THE RELAY BEGINS: Con Verevis, from Cairns, sets out on the first leg of the 1956 Olympic torch relay.
THE RELAY BEGINS: Con Verevis, from Cairns, sets out on the first leg of the 1956 Olympic torch relay.

Jim explains he tripped and skinned his knee during his leg of the relay.

He was among five torchbearers being driven back to Rockhampton when the truck came to a sudden halt, the driver not wanting to run over a 2m black-headed python stretched across the road.

Fellow torchbearer Nedd Dodd jumped out of the truck, grabbed the snake and signalled his intention to take it home.

"We drove on," John said.

"Nedd and his snake were in the back seat and the rest of us were in the front because nobody was game to go near that snake."

On arriving in Rockhampton, the torchbearers were ushered into the local radio station for an interview.

The announcer got the shock of his life when Nedd strolled casually into the studio and draped the snake across the microphone.

"The next day in The Morning Bulletin, the snake had grown a metre and the story said a runner had been injured in the encounter," Jim said.

"That was me, the runner with the bloodied knee.

"Two days later, a Melbourne paper reported a number of the runners had been injured in an encounter with a 25ft (7.6m) snake."

Topics:  editors picks, history, relay, rockhampton



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