FOND MEMORIES: John Rogers with his replica torch from the 1956 Olympic torch relay and the specially commissioned Norma Croker trophy.
FOND MEMORIES: John Rogers with his replica torch from the 1956 Olympic torch relay and the specially commissioned Norma Croker trophy. Allan Reinikka ROK081116atorchbe

John's ready to rekindle the Olympic flame

IT HAPPENED 60 years ago but Rockhampton's John Rogers remembers his part in the 1956 Olympic torch relay like it was yesterday.

The now 83-year-old was one of 2855 young men from three Australian states charged with carrying the Olympic flame from Cairns to Melbourne for the start of the Games of the 16th Olympiad.

It was a "true” Olympic torch relay, passed from hand to hand and run day and night over 13 days, one hour and 53 minutes to arrive right on time for the opening ceremony at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.

John still celebrates the camaraderie and friendships forged on that historic relay and this weekend he will get to relive the incredible adventure with some of his fellow torch bearers.

More than 100 people will gather in Rockhampton to celebrate the diamond anniversary of the 1956 Olympic torch relay.

The celebrations will start this afternoon with a welcome afternoon tea at the CQ Leagues Club.

Guests will then take a scenic tour of Rockhampton and the Capricorn Coast tomorrow followed by the anniversary dinner at the Frenchville Sports Club tomorrow night.

A farewell luncheon at the CQ Leagues Club on Sunday will wind up the festivities.

John said it would be a special weekend to mark what was an iconic event in Australia's sporting history. It was also fitting that the reunion was being staged on the same days that the relay passed through CQ 60 years ago.

"What stays with me about the relay is the camaraderie, the mateship and the friendship among the torchbearers and the reunion will be full of it,” he said.

"They're a great group of guys, that's for sure. I might be a little biased but they really are a wonderful group.”

John said the guest of honour at the anniversary dinner would be Queensland's first Olympic gold medallist Norma Fleming (nee Croker).

Norma teamed up with Fleur Mellor, Betty Cuthbert and Shirley Strickland to win the 4x100m relay in world record time at the Melbourne Olympics.

A special rose bowl trophy, commissioned by the 1956 Torchbearers Commemorative Club in Norma's name, will be presented to Queensland Athletics CEO David Gynther on the night.

John said watching black and white footage of Australia's greatest track athlete, Shirley Strickland, ignited his passion for the Olympic movement.

That passion still burns today and he can rattle off Olympic facts and figures with an accurate ease.

He has also amassed an impressive collection of memorabilia, which includes a replica of the torch he carried in 1956.

John, who was stationed in Townsville with the RAAF 10th Squadron at the time, said it was an epic journey by bus, steam train and truck just to get to his relay starting point 85km south of Home Hill.

"I remember I went on a 27-hour round trip to run one mile,” he said. "I left on the Saturday night about 10.30 and didn't get home until 12.30 or 1 o'clock on Monday morning.”

Conditions for the torchbearers were testing.

"It was quite the experience, I tell you.

"There were dirt tracks called highways, flooded rivers, searing heat and humidity, storm-flooded creeks and schedules that fell behind, placing the torchbearers under more pressure.

"The young athletes took up and met the challenge and succeeded in competing their task.”

John went on to also run in the 2000 Olympic torch relay.

"I love everything about the Olympics and while I didn't go on to be an Olympian I did get to carry the Olympic torch twice in my lifetime. That is something I will always treasure,” he said.

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