1960 Torquay Olympians
Rome finally got its chance to stage the Olympic Games, 54 years after Italy had to give up hosting the Games because of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 1906, causing widespread devastation to the cities at the base of the volcano. The city delighted in revealing its ancient glories as the world watched the 1960 Olympics unfold at historical sites.
After the glories of Melbourne, Australia sent a confident team of 214 athletes, 184 men and 30 women, to Rome, its biggest team ever for an overseas Games. The team did not disappoint, finishing an impressive fifth on the medal table with eight gold, eight silver and six bronze medals.
Below Michael Withers and Keith Wiegard, members of the Torquay Surf Life Saving Club, represented Australia in Water Polo at the 1960 Rome Olympics.
Michael Withers (born 1938), a Torquay Surf Life Saving Club member, was a champion swimmer winning the 110-yard breaststroke event at the Victorian state swimming championships in 1962. He played in over 80 interstate water polo games, first for Victoria and then for NSW in ten National Championships, spanning from 1958 to 1972.
‘Mick’ was a prominent goalkeeper for the Australian teams at the Rome (1960), Tokyo (1964) and Munich (1972) Olympic water polo tournaments. He could very well have been a four-time Olympian as he was a member of the ill-fated Australian team that was denied entry to the Mexico City Games in 1968.
Mick was inducted into the Water Polo Australia Hall of Fame in 2011.
Keith C Wiegard (1938-1992) was a Torquay Surf Life Saving Club member gaining his Bronze in 1958 and remaining a member for 25 years. Keith was an Australian rules footballer with the Fitzroy Football Club, debuting as a 19-year-old in 1957. In 1960 he focused on water polo representing Australia at the 1960 Rome Olympics, where he scored all three of Australia’s goals against the Netherlands.
Keith returned to Fitzroy as a player in 1961 before retiring and coaching Templestowe in the Diamond Valley League. Later he became President of Fitzroy from 1981 to 1984.
1964 Torquay Olympians
The 1964 Summer Olympics held in Tokyo are now seen as the real catalyst for Japan’s rebirth in the 20th century. The Games held in the Japanese capital drew large crowds to all the competition venues. These Games also enjoyed global success because they were the first in history to be broadcast live via satellite. Fifty-six years later, the Games are returning to Tokyo but with Covid emptying the stadiums.
Six Torquay Life Saving Club members represented Australia at these games – Peter Doak, Harry Gallagher, Richard Garrard Jnr, John Ryan, Peter Tonkin and Leon Wiegard. They returned with three bronze medals – Peter Doak and John Ryan in the 4x 100m Freestyle Relay and Peter Tonkin in the 4x100m Medley Relay
Peter Doak OAM was a sprint freestyle swimmer of the 1960s who won a bronze medal in the 4x100m freestyle relay at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Peter was selected for the 1962 Commonwealth Games in Perth where he was a member of the Gold Medal winning 4×110 yard freestyle swimming team, which broke the then world record. Selection for the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games followed, where the freestyle team won the Bronze Medal. For eleven years he was a member of the Victorian Swimming Team and Captain for 8 of those years. In 1967, Peter became Australian 110 yards Freestyle Champion before turning his focus to Surf Life Saving and became Torquay Surf Life Saving Club’s first Australian Champion winning the Australian Belt Championship in 1967. In addition, Peter was the first Victorian to win an Australian Individual Open Surf Life Saving Title.
He received the Australian Sports Medal in 2000 and was awarded the Order of Australia (OAM) medal in 2014 ‘for service to sport, and to the community of Geelong’.
Harry Gallagher OAM (1924-2021) was an Honorary Member of Torquay Surf Life Saving Club from 1965 – 1971 and coached a number of the club’s Olympic swimmers – Peter Doak, John Ryan and Peter Tonkin as well as coaching many of the club’s swimmers. Harry was the man behind 24 Olympians and Australia’s Olympic Swimming Coach 1956, 1960 and 1968 and Canada’s in 1964. He coached the 100m gold medallist at four successive Olympics to amass nine gold, six silver and three bronze Olympic medals. At the British Empire and Commonwealth Games, his pupils won 12 gold, six silver, and three bronze medals. His pupils also went on to win 201 Australian titles and create 52 world records.
Richard Garrard Jnr is a 44-year Torquay Surf Life Saving Club member and was a member of the 1961 Junior Surf and Rescue and Resuscitation (R & R&R) Teams that won the Victorian Titles that season.
Dick is a seven-time Australian national champion who rowed at the elite level for fifteen years from 1964-79. He competed in the men’s coxless four event at the 1964 Summer Olympics and won a bronze medal at the 1977 World Rowing Championships.
Dick took up rowing at Xavier College in 1958, joining the Mercantile Rowing Club the following year, winning a novice pair in that year. He first won a Victorian state championship in 1962, aged nineteen, with Bob Lachal in a coxed pair.
He first represented Australia aged 20, when he was selected to row in the coxless four at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. After a long gap and a shift down to the lightweight division, Dick was back in national representative contention for the 1977 World Rowing Championships in Amsterdam. That eight rowed to a bronze medal.
He had personal/team success at National Championships through the 70s. Dick raced competitively for well over 20 years. He returned to the Olympic stage in 1994 as coach of the USA Women’s Coxless Pair. They achieved a Silver medal. Fours year later, at the Sydney 2000 games, Dick was coaching the USA Men’s Scull.
John Sydney Ryan is an Australian sprint freestyle swimmer of the 1960s. He won a bronze medal in the 4×100-metre freestyle relay at the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo with teammates Bob Windle, David Dickson and Peter Doak. It was the first time this event had been contested at the Olympics. He also made the semi-finals of the 100-metre freestyle. John later took gold in the 4×100 m freestyle relay at the 1966 Commonwealth Games in Kingston, Jamaica, and finished fourth in the 100m freestyle event.
John joined Torquay Surf Life Saving Club whilst training in Melbourne with Harry Gallagher. On returning to WA and Cottesloe SLSC, John won the Australian Open Belt Race Title in 1966
Peter Tonkin OAM started swimming under coach Harry Gallagher, along with many other notable swimmers such as Dawn Fraser and fellow Torquay Surf Life Saving Club members Peter Doak and John Ryan.
Peter Tonkin was an Australian breaststroke swimmer who won a bronze medal in the 100m medley relay at the Tokyo Olympic Games. He also competed in 200 m breaststroke at these games.
Looking forward to the Mexico Olympics, Peter swam in the 100 metre trials but didn’t make the team, which was lucky as he was called up for National Service the following day.
After his service, Peter returned to swimming in Melbourne and then moved to Launceston in 1979 with his wife Jo.
Peter Tonkin was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia in 2019 for his service to swimming across the country. He used his experience to help generations of Tasmanian and Indigenous children learn to swim.
Leon Wiegard OAM, a Torquay Surf Life Saving Club member, was an Australian water polo player. He competed at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and the 1972 Munich Olympics as Vice-Captain. Leon has also coached the Victorian men’s and women’s water polo teams. With 121 international caps to his name, Leon was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia in 2005 and later inducted into the Water Polo Australia Hall of Fame.
He has been president of the Olympians Club of Australia since its formation in 1999, and president of the Olympians Club of Victoria since 1996 and is currently an executive member of the Victorian Olympic Council.
Leon was a player and administrator with the Fitzroy Football Club and was also an AFL/VFL director for 15 years from 1977.