Montreal 1976

Montreal 1976

In 1976, the Olympics were hosted by Canada for the first time, the first Games in North America since Los Angeles in 1932. The Games were beset by problems, both financial and political. Organisers greatly under-estimated the cost of hosting the Games, with the budget blowing out to four times its initial figure. As well, 24 countries boycotted the Games, 22 of them African nations upset at New Zealand’s participation after an All Blacks rugby tour of South Africa – a curious protest against an action in a non-Olympic sport. There were 1000 less athletes competing in Montreal than in Munich four years earlier.

The star of Montreal was 14-year-old Romanian gymnast Nadia Comaneci, one of the most revered Olympic champions of all time. Comaneci scored the first perfect 10.00 in an Olympic event in the uneven bars during the team competition. She went on to record seven perfect scores at the Games. She ended with three gold, including the all-around title, a silver and a bronze, her success eclipsing the efforts of the Soviet Union’s Olga Korbut, who just four years earlier had been gymnastics’ glamour girl.

Australia at the Games

Montreal was the modern nadir of Australian Olympic representation. The team of 184 athletes, 149 men and 35 women, returned without a gold medal. In total, five medals were won: one silver and four bronze. It was the first time Australia had not won a gold medal at the Games since 1936, and also the lowest medal total since then. 

The silver medal was won by the men’s hockey team, its third medal in four Olympics. The team entered the final as favourites but lost 1-0 to New Zealand. The four bronze medals were won in three different sports. Swimmer Stephen ‘Super Fish’ Holland was third in the 1500m freestyle. Sailors Ian Brown and Ian Ruff won bronze in yachting’s 470 class, with John Bertrand third in the Finn class (Bertrand was later skipper of Australia II in Australia’s successful 1983 America’s Cup campaign). In equestrian, the three-day eventing team of Bill Roycroft, his son Wayne, Denis Piggott and Merv Bennett won bronze. It was Bill Roycroft’s third medal and fifth Olympics, joining kayaker Dennis Green as a five-time Olympian. Two other Australians also became five-time Olympians in Montreal: canoeist Adrian Powell and modern pentathlete Peter Machen.

Sprinter Raelene Boyle carried the flag in the Opening Ceremony. She was to endure a disappointing end to her Olympic career, placing fourth (behind three Germans) in the 100m final and being disqualified for a false start in the 200m semi-final. Hockey’s Robert Haigh, who won his second silver medal, carried the flag in the Closing Ceremony, becoming the second hockey player to do so. A performance of note was fencer Ivan Benko, who placed sixth in men’s foil, the best individual result by an Australian in his sport. 

What the modest results of Montreal did do was reveal how closely associated with our national identity was our sporting success: people cared about the lack of medals. The outcome was many positive administrative steps to improve elite and state-based sports programs across the country. No initiative was greater than the creation of the Australian Institute of Sport, now the leading sports training facility in the world. The 1976 athletes were a strong and diverse group – Australia competed in most of the sports – and with proper support many would soon prove their ability at the highest levels.

Australian Olympians At The Games

Flag Bearers

Olympian Name Ceremony
Raelene Boyle Opening
Bob Haigh Closing

History

In 1976, the Olympics were hosted by Canada for the first time, the first Games in North America since Los Angeles in 1932. The Games were beset by problems, both financial and political. Organisers greatly under-estimated the cost of hosting the Games, with the budget blowing out to four times its initial figure. As well, 24 countries boycotted the Games, 22 of them African nations upset at New Zealand’s participation after an All Blacks rugby tour of South Africa – a curious protest against an action in a non-Olympic sport. There were 1000 less athletes competing in Montreal than in Munich four years earlier.

The star of Montreal was 14-year-old Romanian gymnast Nadia Comaneci, one of the most revered Olympic champions of all time. Comaneci scored the first perfect 10.00 in an Olympic event in the uneven bars during the team competition. She went on to record seven perfect scores at the Games. She ended with three gold, including the all-around title, a silver and a bronze, her success eclipsing the efforts of the Soviet Union’s Olga Korbut, who just four years earlier had been gymnastics’ glamour girl.

In athletics, the Flying Finn Lasse Viren completed a double for the ages, successfully defending his 5000m and 10,000 gold medals from 1972. He also placed fifth in the marathon. Another rare double on the track was achieved by Cuba’s Alberto Juantorena, winning the 400m and 800m. American and German swimmers dominated in the pool, East German women winning 11 of 13 gold medals after having failed to win a single gold medal in 1972. Years later, proof of systematic doping in East German sports programs would lessen the lustre of these triumphs, and many others during a grave period of sporting history.  

Winning his second consecutive gold medal was weightlifting super-heavyweight Vassily Alekseyev, one of the strongest men ever to compete at the Games. He set 79 world records during his career, his huge size and appetites (he would breakfast on two dozen eggs) making him a fan favourite. 

The push for greater women’s involvement in the Games gained pace in Montreal. Women’s events debuted in basketball and handball, and six women’s events were introduced in rowing. The Soviet Union won both the women’s basketball and handball gold medals. Shooting also celebrated its first women’s medallist, American Margaret Murdoch winning silver in the small bore rifle, three positions, event. 

In canoe/kayak, slalom (whitewater) events were held and proved popular. However, they would not appear on the program again until 1992. 

The Soviet Union was the most successful nation at the Games, winning 49 gold medals. The German Democratic Republic (East Germany) was second with 40 gold, with the Unites States third. This was the first time the US had not finished in the top two on the medal table.

A nice aside in Montreal was the lighting of the Olympic flame by two teenagers, Sandra Henderson, of English descent, and Stéphane Préfontaine, of French origins, signifying Canada’s shared heritage. Years later the pair married.

Games Trivia

Emblem

The official emblem of the Montreal 1976 Games represents the Olympic rings mounted on an Olympic podium. An athletics track can be seen in the centre, signifying the focal point of the Games. It also features the letter 'M' to reflect the ascension of Montreal to the rank of host Olympic city. The emblem was designed to invoke the universal fraternity offered by the Olympic Ideal, as well as the glory of the winners.

Mascot

The mascot of the Montreal Olympic Games was Amik the beaver. For Canadians the native beaver is a national symbol, featured on coins, stamps and the Montreal coat-of arms. The beaver was chosen because it also represents patience and hard work. Amik wears the emblem of the Games and a red sash representing the ribbons to which Olympic medals are attached.

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Did you know?

Bill Roycroft carried the Flag in the Opening Ceremony in Mexico City 1968 and his son Wayne carried the Flag in Los Angeles 1984.