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Boycott, records galore at Montreal Games

Posted: Wednesday July 7, 2004 9:41PM; Updated: Wednesday July 7, 2004 9:41PM
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LONDON, July 8 (Reuters) -- A political boycott, unprecedented security and a flood of world records in the swimming pool marked the 1976 Montreal Olympics.

Montreal was the first of three successive Olympics to suffer from political boycotts. African nations refused to compete after having unsuccessfully demanded the expulsion of New Zealand because their rugby team had toured racially-segregated South Africa.

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That deprived the Games of Uganda's 1972 Olympic 400 metres hurdles champion John Akii-Bua and Tanzanian 1,500 metres world record-holder Filbert Bayi.

Outstanding on the track were Finnish policeman Lasse Viren, who repeated his 1972 Olympic double with gold in the 5,000 and 10,000 metres, and classy Cuban Alberto Juantorena, who became the first man in 70 years to win both the 400 and 800 metres titles.

Montreal also witnessed the arrival of Ed Moses, who raced away with gold and took Akii-Bua's world record in the 400 metres hurdles, an event he was to dominate for a decade.

In gymnastics, 14-year-old Romanian Nadia Comaneci scored the first Olympic perfect 10s and upstaged 1972 Games crowd-pleaser Olga Korbut.

In the boxing ring, brothers Leon and Michael Spinks won light-heavyweight and middleweight crowns before embarking on professional careers in which both became world heavyweight champions.

Montreal were the first Olympics after the 1972 Munich Games tragedy in which 11 Israelis, five Palestinian guerrillas and a West German policeman were killed following an attack in the Olympic Village. They were, in consequence, the first held amid the intense security which has since become standard.

ARMED MEN

At the time, however, it was striking. Soldiers with semi-automatic rifles patrolled a three-metre wire fence surrounding the village, helicopters wheeled overhead and the compound crawled with armed men in uniform as Canada mounted its biggest security operation since World War Two.

A force of 16,000 protected 12,000 athletes in a $100-million operation, with constant security checks, metal detectors and X-ray screens introduced to protect the village.

Security prevailed but there were major shortcomings. The main stadium was not completed as planned and the Games were a financial liability.

Swimming provided thrills in abundance. Much was made of the "super-fast" 2000 Sydney Olympics pool in which 14 world records were broken and one equalled in the 32 programmed events.

That, however, came nowhere near Montreal, where 27 world records were smashed and two equalled in just 26 events.

The Americans won all but one of the 13 men's titles, denied only by David Wilkie, who became Britain's first men's Olympic swimming champion in 68 years when he carved more than three seconds off the 200 metres breaststroke world record with a time which stood for more than six years.

The only pre-Montreal men's world record under contention to survive was the 100 butterfly time of Mark Spitz, seven-gold hero of the 1972 Munich Games.

East Germany, who had begun their domination of women's swimming at the 1973 world championships, rewrote the record books and won 11 of the 13 women's titles.

UNIQUE FEAT

Nothing could surpass the achievement of 17-year-old Kornelia Ender, who in a unique feat scooped back-to-back individual titles inside half an hour.

Ender, who had already won gold with world records in the 100 metres freestyle and 4x100 medley relay, led from start to finish in the 100 butterfly, equalling her own world mark in the process before embarking on a storming duel with American rival Shirley Babashoff in the 200 freestyle final.

Babashoff, who had beaten the East German at the 1975 world championships, led at halfway but Ender stretched away to win by nearly two seconds in yet another world record and claim two gold medals in a span of 26 minutes.

Babashoff, however, was to extract a measure of revenge when she anchored the U.S. to victory over the East Germans in the 4x100 freestyle relay, denying Ender a fifth gold.

Jim Montgomery made history when he broke the 50-second barrier in the 100 freestyle. Montgomery, who lowered his own world mark to 50.39 in the semi-finals, hurtled home in 49.99 in the final.

Fellow American John Naber, who had twice broken the 100 backstroke world record, also achieved a landmark time when he dipped below two minutes to win the 200 backstroke and claim his fourth gold.

Naber's triumphs marked the end for Roland Matthes, double Olympic backstroke champion in both 1968 and 1972. Matthes, who competed in Montreal two months after an appendix operation, retired after relegation to bronze in the 100 backstroke.

The awesome performances of East German women over the years provoked suspicion and, after the Berlin Wall fell in 1989 and the communist state ceased to exist, evidence of state-sponsored doping emerged.

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++Derek Parr joined Reuters in 1968 and was based in Vienna, Berlin, Bonn and Paris before returning to London, where he worked on Sports Desk as Assistant Sports Editor. He has covered 15 Olympics -- eight Summer and seven Winter Games. He retired in 2001 but continues to cover swimming for Reuters, which he will do in Athens. He also likes to swim himself and won gold and silver medals at the Masters world championships in Italy in June.

Copyright 2004 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved.


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