| Event type

400 metres Freestyle, Women

Date20 July 1976
LocationPiscine olympique, Montréal, Québec
Participants34 from 22 countries

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.

1Petra ThümerGDR4:17.20 (1 h5)4:09.89 (1)Gold
2Shirley BabashoffUSA4:16.07 (1 h4)4:10.46 (2)Silver
3Shannon SmithCAN4:16.70 (2 h4)4:14.60 (3)Bronze
4Rebecca PerrottNZL4:15.71 (1 h1)4:14.76 (4)
5Kathy HeddyUSA4:19.34 (2 h3)4:15.50 (5)
6Brenda BorghUSA4:17.20 (1 h2)4:17.43 (6)
7Annelies MaasNED4:17.16 (1 h3)4:17.44 (7)
8Sabine KahleGDR4:19.34 (3 h4)4:20.42 (8)
9Wendy QuirkCAN4:19.69 (2 h2)
10Regina JägerGDR4:20.05 (2 h1)
11Wendy LeeCAN4:20.16 (3 h2)
12Irina VlasovaURS4:21.19 (4 h4)
13Rosemary MilgateAUS4:21.20 (2 h5)
14Jenny TurrallAUS4:21.33 (3 h5)
15Allison CalderNZL4:23.64 (4 h5)
16Tracey WickhamAUS4:24.44 (3 h1)
17Carine VerbauwenBEL4:26.27 (4 h1)
18Laura BortolottiITA4:29.71 (4 h2)
19Susan BarnardGBR4:30.05 (3 h3)
20Antonia RealESP4:30.37 (5 h2)
21Maria GuimarãesBRA4:32.63 (4 h3)
22Rachaniwan BulakulTHA4:32.98 (5 h4)
23Susan EdmondsonGBR4:33.33 (6 h4)
24Eleonora PandiniITA4:34.69 (5 h5)
25Linda FaberNED4:36.98 (5 h3)
26María PérezVEN4:38.93 (5 h1)
27María ParísCRC4:40.35 (6 h1)
28Myriam MizouniTUN4:43.11 (6 h5)
29María Fernanda PérezCOL4:45.73 (6 h2)
30Vilborg SverrisdóttirISL4:48.28 (7 h1)
31Diana HatlerPUR4:49.73 (7 h4)
32Georgina OsorioPAN4:49.80 (7 h5)
33Susana CoppoARG4:57.41 (6 h3)
34Karen RobertsonHKG5:03.90 (7 h2)
DNSMaría RamónCUB– (DNS h3)

Round One (20 July 1976 — 9:30)

Fastest eight advanced to the final.

Heat One

13Rebecca PerrottNZL4:15.71QOR
25Regina JägerGDR4:20.05
34Tracey WickhamAUS4:24.44
46Carine VerbauwenBEL4:26.27
52María PérezVEN4:38.93
67María ParísCRC4:40.35
71Vilborg SverrisdóttirISL4:48.28

Heat Two

14Brenda BorghUSA4:17.20Q
25Wendy QuirkCAN4:19.69
33Wendy LeeCAN4:20.16
46Laura BortolottiITA4:29.71
52Antonia RealESP4:30.37
67María Fernanda PérezCOL4:45.73
71Karen RobertsonHKG5:03.90

Heat Three

15Annelies MaasNED4:17.16Q
24Kathy HeddyUSA4:19.34Q
32Susan BarnardGBR4:30.05
46Maria GuimarãesBRA4:32.63
53Linda FaberNED4:36.98
61Susana CoppoARG4:57.41
DNS7María RamónCUB

Heat Four

14Shirley BabashoffUSA4:16.07Q
25Shannon SmithCAN4:16.70Q
33Sabine KahleGDR4:19.34Q
46Irina VlasovaURS4:21.19
57Rachaniwan BulakulTHA4:32.98
62Susan EdmondsonGBR4:33.33
71Diana HatlerPUR4:49.73

Heat Five

14Petra ThümerGDR4:17.20Q
25Rosemary MilgateAUS4:21.20
33Jenny TurrallAUS4:21.33
46Allison CalderNZL4:23.64
52Eleonora PandiniITA4:34.69
68Myriam MizouniTUN4:43.11
71Georgina OsorioPAN4:49.80

Final (20 July 1976 — 19:45)

17Petra ThümerGDR4:09.89WR
25Shirley BabashoffUSA4:10.46
33Shannon SmithCAN4:14.60
44Rebecca PerrottNZL4:14.76
51Kathy HeddyUSA4:15.50
62Brenda BorghUSA4:17.43
76Annelies MaasNED4:17.44
88Sabine KahleGDR4:20.42