Munich 1972: Beverley Whitfield – Swimming
Beverley Whitfield gained international recognition when she won three gold medals at the 1970 Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh. As we hear in this clip, she then added an Olympic gold at the Munich Games in 1972 by winning the women's 200m breaststroke in world-record time.
Competing on the same night as Australian hopefuls Shane Gould and Michael Wenden (both of whom were expected to win gold in their events), Whitfield placed sixth in the qualifying rounds and seemed unlikely to deliver an upset in her own event.
Off the block, Beverley started slowly, placing last after the first lap. But she made up ground in the following few laps – and, under the instruction of coach Don Talbot, shifted gears in the third lap.
In the last lap, she claimed the lead overtaking the great Soviet swimmer Galina Prozumenshchikova on the turn. In the final 50 metres she surpassed Dana Schoenfield (from the USA) and Hungary's Ágnes Kaczander for a golden win.
This excerpt from the sound recording Great Moments in Australian Sport (1985), with a brief link by commentator Norman May, captures Beverley's win wonderfully. Spectators cheer from the stands – and their voices become louder and more intense in the penultimate seconds of the race.
The race caller’s voice also rises in tempo and pitch – but struggles to compete with the roar of the crowd, and is eventually overpowered. All this provides a brilliant historical record of the euphoria surrounding the race.
In an Olympics which will always be remembered – and marred – by the horrific Munich massacre (where 11 Israeli athletes, one West German police officer and five Palestinian terrorists were slain), we must not forget the brilliant achievements of our athletes – who worked so hard and brought pride and joy to people around the world.