Whenever he looks back to the July day when he and his three colleagues in Australia’s 4x100m medley relay team secured a stunning victory in the final at Moscow 1980, Peter Evans always remembers one moment in particular. It came just before the race, when Evans, who was to swim breaststroke on the second leg, found himself in what he describes as an “altered state”. “It’s what athletes call ‘being in the zone’. I was very, very focused. My mind was virtually outside my body.”
Lining up with Evans were Mark Kerry (backstroke), Mark Tonelli (butterfly) and Neil Brooks (freestyle), and as he recalls, the Aussies’ were helped in their quest by Sweden’s disqualification in the morning heats. “They were ranked No1 in the world,” he says. Despite not being favoured, the Australian four felt they had a chance, with the 23-year-old Tonelli – the most senior member of the team – deciding they should call themselves the Quietly Confident Quartet. They also pledged to each other that they would beat their personal bests in their respective specialities.
Kerry kicked off their challenge, swimming his two lengths in 57.89 – a personal best - and handing over to Evans in fourth, with the Soviet Union leading from Hungary and Great Britain. Evans kept his promise by beating his own PB with a time of 1:03.01, propelling his side into second place, 0.45 seconds behind the hosts. Tonelli then swam 54.94 in the butterfly leg, a whole two seconds faster than his PB, though it was not enough to wrest the lead from the Soviets, who led by 0.81 at the final handover thanks to a strong performance by Yevgeni Seredin. It was left to anchorman Brooks to bring home the gold, which he did by overhauling Sergei Kopliakov on the final length and touching the wall in a personal best time of 49.98, giving the Australians gold by a margin of 0.22 seconds ahead of the home quartet, with the British completing the podium.
“We all beat our personal bests comfortably and we got the gold,” says Evans. “It was a huge shock, but a good one.” The Perth swimmer, who was 19 at the time, enjoyed an especially productive Games, having edged the USSR’s Alexandr Fedorovski to bronze just two days earlier in the 100m breaststroke, a race in which gold went to Britain’s Duncan Goodhew and silver to Soviet swimmer Arsen Miskarov.
Evans went on to win bronze in the same events at Los Angeles 1984, after which he retired, with Australia’s stunning 1980 relay win as the lofty pinnacle of his sporting career.