Australian Gymnasts First Olympic Memory

Brain Blackburn and Bruce Sharp

As we celebrate 20 years since Australia hosted the 2000 Olympic Games, we look back at the first time Australia saw Olympic gymnastics on our home soil: the 1956 Melbourne Olympics.

Preparation for the Olympics looked a little different in the 1950's.

Growing up in a South Sydney town in NSW, Bruce Sharp would ride his push bike 14kms to the local pole depo to collect old pieces of metal. He would then ride back home and build his own metal high bar and parallel bars to train gymnastics in his backyard. 

For fellow gymnast Brian Blackburn, his Olympic preparation involved training on a set of rings that he installed in the delivery dock of the glass company he worked for, while looking after a young family. 

When Australia earned its first ever Olympic gymnastics spot, both Brain and Bruce joined teammates Graham Bond, David Gourlay, John Lees and Noel Punton in Melbourne to prepare for Australia's debut on the world gymnastics stage. 

Without the connected world of the internet, access to routines was difficult and required creativity. The only routine requirements they had were written in their original French, so the team learnt their Olympic routines from pictures, and eventually sheets they borrowed from another competing team.

The Olympics Games was a new experience for the Australian team, and a home games added to the pressure the Aussie team felt. After seeing other teams, Bruce recalls the panic of changing routines after misinterpreting the slides. Brain, a talented floor worker, recalls losing points for having too many tumbling rows in his routines. Brain finished in 58th position and Bruce in 57th. 

While the first Australian team did not bring home medals, they have cemented themselves in an incredibly special part of our sport's history. They were the pioneers for our sport, learning lessons, discovering processes and above all, showing the Australian public the thrills of Olympic gymnastics. 

Where today's athletes have images and videos to look back on their time, for the Blackburn family it is special memories passed down from their father. An artist by trade, Bruce's memories lay in a painting of himself swinging high on the rings at the games... or if you look into his backyard, a homemade set of parallel bars that are still standing over 60 years later. 

*note: this article is created from personal accounts of Bruce Sharp and the Blackburn family.