Wing on an Olympic prayer

By Philip Barker
John Ian Wing was never an Olympic champion but his contribution to the Olympic Games has lasted more than 50 years.

Originally from Melbourne, he now lives in London and is watching the development of the London 2012 Games with interest.

He recalled the events at his hometown Games of 1956 while attending the recent National Olympic Academy meeting in Greenwich. “It was not a good time in the world, Australia was trying to bring everybody together but there was the Suez Crisis , the Cold War and the Soviet invasion of Hungary.

“So I came with this idea and wrote a letter marked it personal and confidential (which is the way to get things done!) and I sent it off.”

Incredibly the letter found its way on to the desk of Wilfrid Kent Hughes, head of the Melbourne organising committee. “Dear Friend” it said. “I am a Chinese boy and have just turned 17.”

He went on to say that Melbourne had been a great success because of the friendliness of the Melbourne people and outlined his master plan for a gesture that would go round the world.
“The march I have in mind is different from the opening and will make the Games even greater,
even greater….War politics and nationality will be forgotten what more could any one want if the world could be made as one nation.They must not march but walk freely and wave to the public. When they stop they should be given three cheers.”

He specified that no more than two members of each team should enter the stadium together.

“The next thing I knew,” Wing said, “it was all over the papers and they were asking for whoever’d written the letter to come forward.

“I hadn’t told anybody who I was. I wrote again to the organisers asking them not to reveal my name. I hadn’t won a gold medal. I’d just done my bit to help the Games.”

To the credit of the Melbourne organisers they responded very quickly. This, remember, was at the height of the Games itself. Wing himself did not attend any event at the Melbourne Olympics but knew he’d changed the face of the closing ceremony, although he still refused all invitations to come forward.

It was only when Kent Hughes died that the full story was revealed. A student was going through his papers and found the name of John Ian Wing.

When the Olympics returned to Australia in 2000, “they invited me to appear at the closing ceremony in Sydney and I was very pleased they named a road after me at the Olympic park”.

Wing’s original letter is now in the Australian government archives and schoolchildren are taught about what he did back in 1956. Wing’s inspired idea has lasted over half a century. Here’s hoping London 2012’s legacy will be at least as long lasting.