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Gold Gold Gold: 4 x 100 Metres Men’s Medley Relay (1980)


Norman May’s radio commentary of the 4 × 100 men’s swimming medley relay at the 1980 Moscow Olympics.

Curator’s notes

One reason why Norman May’s call of the 4 × 100 men’s swimming medley relay final at the 1980 Moscow Olympics has become famous was that up until that race, Australia had not won an Olympic gold medal for eight years!

The 1976 Olympics in Montreal didn’t yield a single gold medal which – for a sports-loving nation used to winning in the pool – was a dent to the national pride. So when a gold medal was finally in the offing, there was a collective holding of breath, then sigh of relief followed by exhilaration as May declared 'gold, gold for Australia, gold’, if only because the gold drought of Montreal wasn’t going to be repeated. May even says after the race call, 'Australia has won a gold medal at last, after eight years, in Olympic competition the gold medal!’

There was also the element of surprise – Australia was not expected to win this particular race. The US had won the event at every Olympics since the event was introduced in 1960 (and every time since). Even when they boycotted the 1980 Olympics, due to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan the year before, Russia, Great Britain and Sweden were all fancied ahead of the Australians.

So after the first leg, backstroke, swum by Mark Kerry, no-one was surprised that Australia was in fourth place. But then breaststroker Peter Evans swam strongly to move the team into second place and butterfly swimmer Mark Tonelli held that position in his leg, so when Neil Brooks hits the water for the final freestyle leg and pulls level with Russian Sergey Kopliakov, May is full of emotion and exuberance, drawing on all his knowledge to deliver the moment in style.

Born in 1928, Norman ‘Nugget’ May was himself a champion swimmer and his commentary of surf lifesaving events landed him a job at the ABC in the 1950s. By the time of the 1980 Olympics, he was an experienced commentator of many sports and his commentary timing and pace had become finely tuned.

May hits his stride in the last leg of the relay, taking the increasingly excited radio audience with him, counting down the metres as Neil Brooks overtakes the Russian and then holds on to claim the gold medal for Australia. His famous ‘gold, gold, gold’ phrase, made as Brooks touches the wall, was actually a misquote (see clip one), but the phrase and the moment remain iconic for a country denied an Olympic gold medal for eight years.