Michigan in the Olympics


Melbourne - 1956 - Cortina

Swimmer Dick Hanley was the only Wolverine varsity athlete to make the long trip to Melbourne as part of the U.S. squad. Business School alumnus John Welchli, competing for the Detroit Rowing Club, represented the U.S. in the coxless four. Both came home with silver medals.

Hanley finished 5th in the 100 meter freestyle and then kept the string of Michigan medal winning Olympiads alive by capturing a silver medal as part of the 800 meter freestyle relay team. Jack Wardrop made his third Olympic appearance for Great Britain in the freestyle relay and 100 meter freestyle. Jozsef Gerlach represented Hungary in both diving events.

Dick Hanley Jack Wardrop Jozsef Gerlach
Dick Hanley, Jack Wardrop, Jozsef Gerlach, John Welchli

John Welchli, who earned an MBA from U-M in 1952, did not take up rowing until he was in grad school. He had been a swimmer and ran cross country and track at Brown as an undergrad. Welchli and Detroit Rowing Club boatmates John and Arthur Makinlay and James McIntosh, finished second to a Canadian team in Melbourne. Long a mainstay of the Michigan and national rowing scene, Welchli has been called "the most respected man on the Detroit River." He has won more than 30 U.S. and Canadian titles.

Laird Sloan ran on Canada's 4x400 meter relay team which finished in fifth place. He also competed in the 400 meters but did not advance from the preliminary heat. Eeles Landstrom, who won Big Ten pole vault titles in 1956 and 1959, represented Finland a second time, but competed in the pole vault rather than the decathlon as he had in 1952. A young Tom Robinson made his first Olympic appearance as the only track and field competitor for the Bahamas. He finished 4th in his qualifying heat in the 100-meter dash. Robinson would enroll at U-M in 1958 and compete in three more Olympic games.

Laird Sloan  Eeles Landstrom   Brendan O'Reilly
Laird Sloan, Eeles Landstrom, Brendan O'Reilly

Brendan O'Reilly, the Big Ten's high jump co-champion in 1956, competed for Ireland, but did not qualify for the finals. O'Reilly, who went on to become one of Ireland's best known sports broadcasters, gained another bit of Olympic notoriety in 1985 when he wrote the song "Let the Nations Play" in reaction to the American and Soviet boycotts of previous games. The International Olympic Committee adopted it as an official song for the Seoul games.

Ernie Gagnier

Ed Gagnier, who tied for the Big Ten all-around title in 1957, became the first U of M gymnast to compete in the Olympics. Though he did not place in Melbourne, he established Michigan as a training ground for future Canadian Olympians.


Col. Taylor Drysdale Don Canham

Col. Taylor Drysdale (left), a member of the 1936 Olympic team, served as assistant manager of the U.S. swim team. U of M track coach Don Canham (right) was in Melbourne as coach of a combined African team as part of a U.S. State Department program.



In Cortina, Italy, Willard Ikola and John Matchefts became the first Michigan medalists in the winter games, earning silver medals with the U.S. hockey team. Ikola was named outstanding goalie of the games. Both played on two NCAA championship teams for UM, Ikola in 1951 and 192, Matchefts in 1951 and 1953. Matchefts was captain of the 1953 team. Robert White, who would letter for UM in 1958-1960, won a bronze medal with the Canadian Olympic squad. 

John Matchefts Willard Ikola  Robert White
John Matchefts, Willard Ikola, Robert White

The U-M Results - 1956

John Welchli
    rowing - coxless four 2nd
Dick Hanley
   100 m. freestyle 5th
   800 m. freestyle relay2nd
Jack Wardrop (Great Britain)
   800 m. freestyle relay6th
   400 m. freestylewon his heat but did not advance to finals
Jozsef Gerlach (Hungary)
   3 m. diving8th
   10 m. diving4th
Laird Sloan (Canada)
   4x400 m. relay 5th
   400 metersdid not place
Eeles Landstrom (Finland)
   pole vault did not qualify for finals
Brendan O'Reilly (Ireland)
   high jumpdid not place
Tom Robinson (Bahamas)
    100m did not place
Ed Gagnier (Canada)
   gymnasticsdid not place
Willard Ikola
John Matchefts
Robert White (Canada)
Col. Taylor Drysdale
   assistant manager of U.S. swimming team

Photo Credits:

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