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Swimming at the 1976 Montréal Summer Games:

Women's 400 metres Freestyle

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Events:

Host City: Montréal, Canada
Venue(s): Olympic Pool, Montréal, Québec
Date Started: July 20, 1976
Date Finished: July 20, 1976

Gold: GDR Petra Thümer
Silver: USA Shirley Babashoff
Bronze: CAN Shannon Smith

Summary

[Shirley Babashoff] had won the 400 freestyle at the 1975 World Championships in Cali, Colombia. She also held the world record from 1975, until the GDR’s [Barbara Krause] broke it by over three sets at a meet in Berlin one month before the 1976 Olympics. But Krause would not be in Montréal, as she developed an infected throat and was dropped from the East German team. This seemingly left the race open for Babashoff, who did not count on Krause’s teammate [Petra Thümer], who had finished second behind her in the world record swim. Thümer took the lead in the Montréal final from the start, and never let go. She opened a ½-second lead in the first 100 and maintained that throughout, eventually winning the gold medal in world record time of 4:09.89. Behind her, Babashoff also bettered Krause’s record, finishing in 4:10.46 but it was only for the silver medal. Five days later Thümer and Babashoff would also finish 1-2 in the 800 freestyle.

Babashoff was favored to win multiple golds in 1976, but ended up with four silvers and a freestyle relay upset gold. She was vocal in Montréal with her condemnation of the East German swimmers, accusing them of systematic doping and all looking like men. The press skewered Babashoff for these comments and called her a sore loser. But over 15 years later, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the re-unification of Germany, many of the East German sporting documents were leaked, and the entire GDR systematic doping plan was laid out for all to see, bringing Shirley Babashoff some measure of redemption. In 2000, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) awarded her the Olympic Order in Silver, perhaps as a token to admit she had been right all along.

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