Lake Wendouree saw the return of more than 20 Olympians who competed on its water at the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games. The event included a commemorative row-past to start the lunchtime proceedings, with members of Japan’s men’s eight, coxed by Australia’s John Cockbill, rowing alongside a composite ’56 Olympians crew made up of rowers from Australia, Greece, Italy and Germany.

The race between the two crews proved to be quite captivating, with the Japanese crew just pipping the composite crew at the line. Following the race, the group returned to land where they were welcomed in a special ceremony and presented with a commemorative medal.

Tohru Sasaki, who travelled to Ballarat with the Japanese Men’s Eight in 1956 as their reserve rower, said the group had thoroughly enjoyed the reunion: “It is wonderful and a true honour to be back in Ballarat again. We had a wonderful time here in 1956, where we forged many friendships that have lasted to the present day.
“We remember how friendly the people of Australia were to us in 1956 and they have been fantastic hosts to us again. The crew enjoyed being back out on the water and it was not as windy or choppy as when we lost our semi-final in 1956!”

The event brought with it a host of emotions, dredging up memories for the past and creating new ones.

Greek single sculler, Nick Chatziyakoumis, competed in the Melbourne Olympics and was knocked out in the semi-finals on Lake Wendouree but ended up staying in Australia and raising his family in Melbourne.
Chatziyakoumis was emotional at the function saying: “It’s just so wonderful to see everyone again and to be together, I’m so grateful to everyone who organised this moment for us.
“I stayed in Australia after the Olympics and married an Australian woman and raised my family here and it was the best thing I ever did. I still have such wonderful memories of being in Ballarat for the Olympics and today will be another memory I will treasure forever.”

John Jenkinson of Australia, who as a 15-year-old coxed the Australian Men’s Four in 1956 and was the Australian Olympic Team’s youngest member said: “Well many of us have stayed in touch over the years but we’ve not had a reunion since 2002 so it’s been a real thrill to be back here in Ballarat.
“The equipment and boats have changed dramatically since 1956, but the conditions today have been very similar to the first three days of competition in Ballarat in 1956. We should have handled them with ease, but I’m not sure we did that well!
“Rowing is a sport for all ages, I was lucky at 15 to be a part of an Olympics and Rainer (Borkowsky – Germany’s coxswain) was lucky at 14 to be the German cox, and we have both continued to be involved in rowing over many years.”

“The biggest difference today for me was using a coxswain’s box. Fifty-eight years ago it was only the Men’s Pair that I was coxing and today’s boat was a bit bigger, in those days you didn’t have the coxswain’s box, which is the powered speaker system in the boat, it was the first time I had the experience of using it and it was great fun!”

On the top of the medal count after two days of racing at the World Rowing Masters Regatta is the Australian club, Melbourne Rowing Club. With a total of 70 entries, they have thus far won medals in 41 events, with 20 gold medals. Melbourne University and Essendon are tied for second with 13 gold medals each. Racing continues tomorrow at 9:00 local time.

Special thanks to Rowing Australia

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