Host City: München, West Germany
Venue(s): Swimming Hall, Olympic Park, München
Date Started: August 30, 1972
Date Finished: August 30, 1972
The favorite was American [Gary Hall], who had set the last four world records, including 4:30.81 set at the 1972 US Trials in Chicago in August. Sweden’s [Gunnar Larsson] had won both the 200 and 400 IM at the 1970 European Championships, but his times not approach Hall’s. In the final Hall led on the butterfly opener, his best stroke, trailed by Hungary’s [András Hargitay], but he was almost three bodylengths behind. On the backstroke, Hall opened up further, leaving Hargitay a full three bodylengths in arrears, with Larsson half-a-lap behind, but Larsson’s best stroke was the breaststroke and it was Hall’s worst. Hall was tiring and American [Tim McKee] caught him at 275 metres, moving into the lead. Hall still led Larsson after 300 metres but he was visibly tiring and Larsson moved ahead of both McKee and Hall at 325 metres. The final was too close to call so the fans looked to the electric timing. Both Larsson and McKee had finished in 4:31.98, a seeming tie.
But the electric timer could measure to the 1/1000ths of a second and when that was done, Larsson had the gold medal – 4:31.981 to 4:31.983. After Munich, this would not be allowed again, as it was shown that this was less than the thickness of one coat of paint on the wall, and minute differences in the lanes could affect this result. All future international swimming races would be decided only to the 1/100th of a second, and if swimmers were tied at that margin, they were declared tied.