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Athletics at the 1976 Montréal Summer Games:

Men's 1,500 metres

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Host City: Montréal, Canada
Venue(s): Olympic Stadium, Olympic Park, Montréal, Québec
Date Started: July 29, 1976
Date Finished: July 31, 1976

Gold: NZL John Walker
Silver: BEL Ivo Van Damme
Bronze: FRG Paul-Heinz Wellmann

Summary

The 1976 Olympic 1,500 was one of the most eagerly awaited races among track fans. There were two leading contenders, with diametrically different running styles. On 2 February 1974, Tanzania’s Filbert Bayi won the greatest 1,500 run to that date, at the Commonwealth Games. His time of 3:32.16 was a world record, and he needed it to defeat John Walker of New Zealand, who placed second in 3:32.52, also surpassing the previous record. On 17 May 1975, at the International Freedom Games in Jamaica, Bayi then broke the world mile record with 3:51.0, but that mark would not last long. In Göteborg, Sweden, on 12 August, Walker became the first runner to break the 3:50 barrier, winning the mile in 3:49.4. Walker was a solid middle-distance runner with an excellent kick, while Bayi was an almost maniacal front runner who set what seemed to be suicidal paces. The Olympic match-up between them was highly anticipated.

But it never happened. Tanzania joined the African boycott of the Montréal Olympics and Bayi could not compete. In his absence, Walker seemed a cinch for the gold medal. But his 1976 form was not what it had been in 1974-75. He suffered from chronic compartment syndrome in both his lower legs, which would later require surgery, and he had to back off on his training, running shorter distances but of very high quality. Among the nine finalists in Montréal, only Ireland’s Eamonn Coghlan was a top miler, with many of the others being better known as 800 metre runners. The pace was quite slow, with Coghlan leading thru 800 and 1,200 metres in 2:03.15 and 3:01.23. Walker then took off on the backstretch and led out a 300 metre sprint. He quickly took the lead and his anerobic capacity held off the runners to win the gold medal, with Belgium’s Ivo Van Damme adding a silver medal to the one he had earned earlier in the 800. Before the end of the year, Van Damme was killed in a car crash. In his honor, the Ivo Damme Memorial athletics meeting is held annually in Brussels.

Final Standings

Rank Athlete Age Team NOC Medal
1 John Walker 24 New Zealand NZL Gold
2 Ivo Van Damme 22 Belgium BEL Silver
3 Paul-Heinz Wellmann 24 West Germany FRG Bronze
4 Eamonn Coghlan 23 Ireland IRL
5 Frank Clement 24 Great Britain GBR
6 Rick Wohlhuter 27 United States USA
7 Dave Moorcroft 23 Great Britain GBR
8 Graham Crouch 28 Australia AUS
9 János Zemen 25 Hungary HUN
5 h1 r2/3 Thomas Wessinghage 24 West Germany FRG
6 h1 r2/3 Steve Ovett 20 Great Britain GBR
6 h2 r2/3 Francis Gonzalez 24 France FRA
7 h1 r2/3 Herman Mignon 25 Belgium BEL
7 h2 r2/3 Paul Craig 22 Canada CAN
8 h1 r2/3 Fernando Mamede 23 Portugal POR
8 h2 r2/3 Marc Nevens 21 Belgium BEL
9 h2 r2/3 Hélder de Jesus 22 Portugal POR
AC h1 r2/3 Dave Hill 23 Canada CAN
4 h1 r1/3 Åke Svenson 23 Sweden SWE
4 h4 r1/3 Niall O'Shaughnessy 20 Ireland IRL
4 h5 r1/3 Karl Fleschen 21 West Germany FRG
5 h1 r1/3 Evert Hoving 23 Netherlands NED
5 h2 r1/3 Mike Durkin 23 United States USA
5 h4 r1/3 Antonio Colón 23 Puerto Rico PUR
5 h5 r1/3 Rolf Gysin 24 Switzerland SUI
6 h1 r1/3 Matt Centrowitz 21 United States USA
6 h2 r1/3 Gheorghe Ghipu 21 Romania ROU
6 h3 r1/3 Bronisław Malinowski 25 Poland POL
6 h4 r1/3 Ulf Högberg 30 Sweden SWE
6 h5 r1/3 Luis Medina 24 Cuba CUB
7 h1 r1/3 Antti Loikkanen 21 Finland FIN
7 h2 r1/3 Günther Hasler 25 Liechtenstein LIE
7 h3 r1/3 Ágúst Ásgeirsson 24 Iceland ISL
7 h4 r1/3 Peter Spir 20 Canada CAN
7 h5 r1/3 Lars Martin Kaupang 23 Norway NOR
8 h1 r1/3 Ruben Sørensen 22 Denmark DEN
8 h2 r1/3 Markku Laine 21 Finland FIN
8 h3 r1/3 Sheikr Al-Shabani 26 Saudi Arabia KSA
8 h4 r1/3 Emmanuel Saint-Hilaire 23 Haiti HAI
8 h5 r1/3 Spilios Zakharopoulos 26 Greece GRE
9 h2 r1/3 Francisco Menocal 30 Nicaragua NCA
9 h5 r1/3 Muhammad Siddique 27 Pakistan PAK