History of the 1960 Olympics in Rome, Italy

U.S. track star Wilma Rudolph crossing the finish line as she wins gold for the 4 x 100m relay.
American track star Wilma Rudolph breaks the tape at the finish line as she clinches the gold medal for the women's 4 x 100m relay for the United States at the 1960 Olympic Games, Rome, Italy. (September 8, 1960). (Photo by Robert Riger/Getty Images)

The 1960 Olympic Games (also known as the XVII Olympiad) were held in Rome, Italy from August 25 to September 11, 1960. There were many firsts at these Olympics, including the first to be televised, the first to have the Olympic Anthem, and the first to have an Olympic champion run in bare feet. 

Fast Facts

Official Who Opened the Games: Italian President Giovanni Gronchi
Person Who Lit the Olympic Flame: Italian track athlete Giancarlo Peris
Number of Athletes: 5,338 (611 women, 4,727 men)
Number of Countries: 83 countries
Number of Events: 150 events

A Wish Fulfilled

After the 1904 Olympics were held in St. Louis, Missouri, the father of the modern Olympic Games, Pierre de Coubertin, wished to have the Olympics hosted in Rome: "I desired Rome only because I wanted Olympism, after its return from the excursion to utilitarian America, to don once again the sumptuous toga, woven of art and philosophy, in which I had always wanted to clothe her."*

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) agreed and chose Rome, Italy to host the 1908 Olympics. However, when Mt. Vesuvius erupted on April 7, 1906, killing 100 people and burying nearby towns, Rome passed the Olympics to London. It was to take another 54 years until the Olympics would finally be held in Italy.

Ancient and Modern Locations

Holding the Olympics in Italy did bring together the mixture of ancient and modern that Coubertin had so wanted.  The Basilica of Maxentius and the Baths of Caracalla were restored to host the wrestling and gymnastic events respectively, while an Olympic Stadium and a Sports Palace were built for the Games.

First and Last

The 1960 Olympic Games were the first Olympics to be fully covered by television. It was also the first time the newly chosen Olympic Anthem, composed by Spiros Samaras, was played.

However, the 1960 Olympics were the last that South Africa was allowed to participate in for 32 years. (Once apartheid ended, South Africa was allowed to rejoin the Olympic Games in 1992.)

Amazing Stories

Abebe Bikila of Ethiopia surprisingly won the gold medal in the marathon - with bare feet. (Video) Bikila was the very first black African to become an Olympic champion. Interestingly, Bikila won the gold again in 1964, but that time, he wore shoes. 

United States athlete Cassius Clay, later known as Muhammad Ali, made headlines when he won a gold medal in light heavyweight boxing. He was to go on to an illustrious boxing career, eventually being called, "the Greatest." 

Born prematurely and then stricken with polio as a young child, U.S. African-American runner Wilma Rudolph overcame here disabilities and went on to win three gold medals at this Olympic Games.

A Future King and Queen Participated

Greece's Princess Sofia (the future queen of Spain) and her brother, Prince Constantine (the future and last king of Greece), both represented Greece at the 1960 Olympics in sailing. Prince Constantine won a gold medal in sailing, dragon class.

A  Controversy

Unfortunately, there was a ruling problem on the 100-meter free-style swim. John Devitt (Australia) and Lance Larson (United States) had been neck and neck during the last segment of the race. Though they both finished at about the same time, most of the audience, the sports reporters, and the swimmers themselves believed Larson (U.S.) had won.

However, the three judges ruled that Devitt (Australia) had won. Even though the official times showed a faster time for Larson than for Devitt, the ruling held.

 

* Pierre de Coubertin as quote in Allen Guttmann, The Olympics: A History of the Modern Games (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1992) 28.