- 31 Jul 1976
- Montreal 1976
Walker strikes gold for New Zealand - Athletics
Prior to Montreal 1976, New Zealand was still awaiting its first track and field gold medal since Peter Snell’s sensational 800m and 1500m double in Tokyo 12 years previously.
And when African nations announced a boycott of the Canadian showpiece, in protest at the All Blacks’ rugby tour of South Africa, New Zealand’s hopes of ending that run improved further.
John Walker and Tanzanian Filbert Bayi had enjoyed a thrilling 1,500m rivalry, with the African prevailing two years before in the final of the Commonwealth Games in Christchurch in 1974 in a world record time.
It was a world record that would last five and half years until Steve Ovett, who was knocked out in the semis in Montreal, and fellow Briton Sebastian Coe each raised the bar for fun during the early 1980s.
Despite Bayi’s absence, the competition in Montreal was still intense.
Walker went into the event as the world record holder over a mile, and New Zealand middle and distance running was enjoying something of a renaissance going into the 1976 Games, with Walker, Rod Dixon, Dick Quax and Graham Crouch all in top form.
Walker looked a class apart in the heats and semis, easing to victory in both, and the main dangers in the final appeared to come from the Belgian Ivo van Damme, who had finished second in the 800m just days earlier, and Ireland’s Eamonn Coghlan.
The final set off at modest pace with Coghlan kicking for home with 300m to go.
Walker stayed on his shoulder and glided past the Irishman on the back straight, but his move was covered by Van Damme, who was eager to go one better than the silver he had claimed in the 800m behind Alberto Juantorena.
But Walker was not to be denied and he crossed the line first in three minutes 39.17 seconds, leaving a melee of runners to contest the other medals behind him.
Van Damme bagged his second silver of the Games while the bronze went to West Germany’s Paul-Heinz-Wellmann, who edged out an unlucky Coghlan.