The process of becoming an Olympian in 1956 with Wendy Grant

Today, Gymnastics Australia takes a trip back to 1956, the year that Australia had its first Women’s Artistic Gymnastics athletes attend the Olympic Games. 

The selection process back then is nothing like you would ever see today, and one of Australia’s team members, Wendy Grant provides insight into what was a completely different era for the sport.

 “In 1956, Alf Lorbach thought Australia should be represented in Women’s Gymnastics at the Olympic Games to be held in Melbourne in November.

“In April, Alf put an advertisement in the Herald Newspaper asking for volunteers to try out for the team. 

“From 350 girls, 3 were chosen and we trained in the garden of Alf’s home who made his own gymnastics equipment.”

In the lead up to the 1956 Olympic Games, Grant and her team mates, Inge Frazer and Barbara Cunningham trained tirelessly for six months in Lorbach’s backyard. 

“Our apparatus was a Balance Beam made of wood with no covering," Grant said.

“The Vaulting Horse was the same as the men’s and much narrower than the one in use today.

“The High and Low Bars were laminated as the men’s Parallel Bars and consequently quite a few bars were broken by our bodies hitting the bar with our hips."

November came around and the Women’s team only received permission to compete three days before the Opening Ceremony of the Games. 

“There was a lot of opposition from the Victorian Amateur Gymnastics Union, as the men were reluctant to allow us to compete," Grant said.

“We competed at the West Melbourne Stadium and we had never seen elite gymnastics before. 

“So to be able to see the overseas countries compete, especially the Russians, it was marvellous.”

As for the competition itself, all athletes were required to perform a set routine on each apparatus then the second day of competition a voluntary routine. 

“For the Floor exercise there was a felt overlay over floorboard with a canvas cover on top and all teams had their own pianist," Grant said.

“We were given vouchers to the Melbourne Sports Depot for our competing outfits but they had never heard of leotards. 

“So my mother made three leotards and then we were provided a cloth map of Australia to be sewn on.”

Since then, early days of gymnastics to today, Grant has witnessed the changes that made an impact to the sport.

 “I have of course seen the growth of women’s gymnastics in Australia and I believe our biggest break came when Peggy Ligget from America as appointed Head Coach.

“The standard increased dramatically and resulted in a full team of six competed at next World Cup and Olympic Games."

Upon reflection of her 1956 Olympic Games journey, Grant remains proud of her fond memories of the Women’s Artistic Gymnastics. 

 “I am very proud to have been a pioneer in my sport.”