“Melbourne is THE black page in the Olympic History of the Netherlands,” wrote Ada Kok in an email to me. Kok was not only a two-time Olympian in 1964 and 1968, she was the President of the Dutch Olympians Association for 11 years.
And when she was president, you could join the association only if you were an Olympian. Thus, the unfortunate members of the 1956 Dutch National Team were forbidden from competing once the Dutch government decided to boycott the Melbourne Games. As related in a previous post, some of the Dutch national team, including world-record swimmer, Cocky Gastelaars, were already in Melbourne preparing when the decision was made.
“Some athletes were already present in Melbourne to train and they were whistled back home by the Dutch Olympic Committee and the Dutch Government,” wrote Kok. “For Cocky this was a traumatic decision as this was her chance to win a gold medal being a world-record holder. But not only was Cocky disappointed. Then, we had a lot of potential gold medal winners who were part of this Dutch Olympic Melbourne Team in 1956. The sad thing was they all just received a telegram to announce the Olympic Team was not travelling to Melbourne, and for those who were already in Melbourne, they were ordered to leave the Olympic Village, not to wear their Olympic outfits anymore and travel home immediately.”
Kok provided me with a copy of that telegram dated November 7, 1956, seen below.
DUTCH OLYMPIC TEAM HEIDELBERG-VICTORIA-ASUSTRLIA
AT EXTRAORDINARY MEETING THE DUTCH OLYMPIC PARTICIPATION TO WITHDRAW DUE TO HUNGARY STOP LEAVE OLYMPIC VILLAGE – FIND OTHER PLACE TO STAY STOP WEAR CIVILIAN CLOTHES – IF IMPOSSIBLE REMOVE BADGE STOP WAIT FOR PAULEN LEAVING 11 NOVEMBER FLIGHT 845 FOR FURTHER INSTRUCTIONS STOP CANCEL ALL HOTEL RESERVATIONS BUT RESERVE HOTEL WINDSOR PAULEN AND CHARLES LEAVING 15 NOVEMBER SORRY ALL THE BEST
NOC (National Olympic Committee )
To a world-class athlete preparing years for this moment, the telegram above must have been a dagger in their backs. “No further explanation,” wrote Kok. “This was so sad! And this caused over the years a lot of bad feelings among the Dutch Olympians from 1956.”
It took a while, but in 2014, a step was taken to recognize these athletes whose lives were so abruptly and rudely changed that day in November 1956. Erica Terpstra, who was the President of the Dutch Olympic Committee, worked with Ada Kok to arrange a day of recognition to the 70-plus athletes who could not aspire to be stronger, faster or higher in Australia. “We organized a beautiful rehabilitation lunch for all the members of the Dutch Melbourne Team 1956, those who were still alive that time. Erica apologized on behalf of the Dutch Olympic Committee for the incredibly bad way this situation had been handled in those days, as no excuse or explanation had ever been made to the athletes.”
Kok wrote that this was a very emotional gathering. “A very old gentleman who used to be a member of the Board of the Dutch Olympic Committee in 1956 apologized, 90 years old when he did this, and 50 years later, people cried when hearing his words. I still get tears in my eyes thinking about this moment.”
And finally, Kok announced on behalf of the Dutch Olympians Association that all members of that Melbourne team would have free membership. “In fact, they were Olympians if not for the very stupid decision of the Dutch Olympic Committee in 1956.”
And so, the rehabilitation has begun. Nothing will ever bring those days back, those days of hopes and dreams. But they are indeed Olympians, and no telegram can change that again.
For Part I, go to this link: