The 4×100 Medley Relay Final at the Moscow Olympics – Norman May

The 4×100 Medley Relay Final at the Moscow Olympics – Norman May
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This clip includes the final 30 seconds of commentary of the 4 × 100 men’s swimming medley relay at the 1980 Moscow Olympics.

Summary by Martin Ford

Norman May

This is Norman May’s commentary of the last lap when Neil Brooks of Australia and Sergey Kopliakov of the Soviet Union race to the finishing line and where May gives his now famous, and famously misquoted, line: ‘Gold, gold to Australia, gold!’, which many now remember as being simply ‘gold, gold, gold’. In an interview with The Sydney Morning Herald in 2010, May said that this call was the highlight of his career and laughed at the suggestion of being remembered for something he didn’t actually say.

The call was broadcast on the 2UE radio network because the race occurred in the small hours of the morning when, in 1980, the ABC had closed for the night. The broadcaster at 2UE played May’s call of the last lap eight times over the next hour, which helped propel the phrase to its edited version and into the hearts of Australians.

Even from this short clip at the end of the race it’s obvious why May is such an effective commentator. He conveys a sense of the atmosphere ('The crowd’s going wild!’) so the listener feels like they are there. His description of events is concise ('Forget the rest’) and thrilling, with the countdown at the end ('Five metres … four …’) raising the suspense to unbearable levels. The excitement and jubilation in his voice as he shouts 'Gold!’ at the end is infectious and helps explain why this broadcast became so iconic.


The 4×100 Medley Relay Final at the Moscow Olympics synopsis

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, but the phrase and the moment remain iconic for a country denied an Olympic gold medal for eight years.

Notes by Martin Ford