Mark Tonelli Relives Legendary Commentator Norman May’s famous Moscow call: “Gold…Gold to Australia…Gold.!!”

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GOLD...gold...to Australia..and 1980 Olympig gold medallist Mark Tonelli relives the magical moment of 40 years ago in Moscow. Photo Courtesy Ross Willis.

Mark Tonelli Relives Legendary Commentator Norman May’s famous Moscow call: “Gold…Gold to Australia…Gold!”

It’s a performance that is now treasured amongst the archives of iconic moments in the colourful and storied history of Australian Olympic achievements – the men’s 4x100m medley gold from Moscow in 1980 as featured so descriptively in Swimming World’s flashbacks of the boycotted Games of 40 years ago by Craig Lord.

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QUIETLY, CONFIDENT QUARTET; (L-R) Mary Kerry, Peter Evans, Neil Brooke and Mark Tonelli – Photo Courtesy:  Hanson Media Collection (Russ McPhedran)

Dubbed the “Quietly Confident Quartet” of Mark Kerry, Peter Evans, Mark Kerry and Neil Brooks, they were long-odds outsiders – ranked seventh of the 15 teams in a Games ravaged by the boycotts led by US, Canada, Japan and Germany.

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TONELLI ON TEMPO: Mark Tonelli in full cry re-calling Norman May’s famous Moscow call. Photo Courtesy Ross Willis.

And butterflyer Tonelli, himself an expert swimming commentator in Los Angeles in 1984, has remembered the famous moment at a re-union in Sydney this week, as it was captured and brought to life by popular Australian broadcaster, former champion lifesaver from Freshwater Norman “Nugget” May.

The Australian swimmers, led by the outspoken 23-year-old Tonelli, had been the centre of a highly political and tumultuous lead up to a Games.

 

They survived death threats, traitor taunts and continuous threats and a 6-5 vote from the Australian Olympic Federation to sneak out of the country and compete in the Games.

It was a defiant, determined and decisive medley relay team who were having no truck with the Government’s demands and on July 25, 1980 these four boys, real Aussie larrikins in their own right, put all their energies into creating their own slice of Olympic history

They let their swimming do the talking as the legendary Australian sports commentator May called the race climaxing with his famous “Gold…gold to Australia..gold!! ” as fast finishing freestyling anchorman Brooks surged ahead of Russian star Sergey Kopliakov.

Here is a VIDEO featuring Norman May’s famous call, dubbed over the top:

GOLD, GOLD TO AUSTRALIA GOLD – Norman May’s 4×100,m medley relay call from Moscow in 1980

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THE FINISH and the FANFARE: With Mark Tonelli, Peter Evans and Mark Kerry jumping for gold as Neil Brooks touches the wall. Photos Courtesy: Hanson media Collection (Russ McPhedran).

It took just 3 minutes 45.70 seconds for Kerry (57.87 backstroke), Evans (63.01 breaststroke), Tonelli (54.94 butterfly) and Brooks (49.84 freestyle) to sink the highly fancied Russians – remaining today as the only non American team (and in their absence) to win gold in the 15 times the medley relay event has been swum since Rome in 1960.

Kerry opened proceedings remaining in touch on the opening backstoke leg before Evans – with Brooks – one of two Western Australians on the team – produced a withering split to really put the Australians in the hunt.

It allowed Tonelli – a noted backstroker and freestyler and a solid but makeshift butterflyer to make his move alongside the Russians and it was his final 25m to the wall that gave “big Brooksie” a sniff.

A powerful dive and strong stroking, eye-balling Kopliakov all the way, set up a gripping finish, with Brooks surfacing off the wall with the power of a submarine, popping the question to the local hero down he final 50 metres, kicking away to win a memorable gold.

Brooks had never before broken 51 seconds but somehow lifted to crack the 50 seconds barrier with a perfect flying start off a fast finishing Tonelli touch – sparking wild scenes of celebration on the pool deck.

Daily Telegraph sports writer Ian Heads was in Moscow and wrote: “Somehow he was able he give the Russian a body length start and still beat him home….swimming faster than he had ever swum before….a classic case of the occasion making the man.”

“I’m stoked..”declared Brooks who dedicated the victory to his late mum Norah who had passed away the Christmas before.

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HEADLINE ACT: The Page One headline in the Sydney Sun newspaper in 1980. Photo Courtesy: Hanson Media Collection (Russ McPhedran).

It made headlines around Australia with Sydney’s afternoon newspaper The Sun producing a page one story by the noted writer EE Christensen and an accompanying poster declaring “I did for Mum” with a classic action photo of Brooks with his arms in the air taken by on the spot sports photographer Russ McPhedran.

But it was the classic race call by Norman May that has encapsulated the moment stored and documented in Australia’s National Screen and Sound Archive – the national audiovisual archive, collecting, preserving and sharing the nation’s moving image and recorded sound heritage.

NORMAN MAY – The voice of Australian sport

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THE MAN BEHIND THE MICROPHONE: Norman “Nugget” May. Photo Courtesy: ABC.

Curator Martin Ford noted that…. “We have documented Norman May’s commentary of the last lap when Neil Brooks and Sergey Kopliakov race to the finish….and where May gives his now famous, and famously misquoted, line: ‘Gold, gold to Australia, gold!’, which many now remember as being simply ‘Gold, Gold, Gold’. In an interview with The Sydney Morning Herald in 2010, May said that this call was the highlight of his career and laughed at the suggestion of being remembered for something he didn’t actually say. 

The call was broadcast on the 2UE radio network because the race occurred in the small hours of the morning when, in 1980, the ABC had closed for the night. The broadcaster at 2UE played May’s call of the last lap eight times over the next hour, which helped propel the phrase to its edited version and into the hearts of Australians. 

“…… it’s obvious why May (will be remembered) as such an effective commentator. He conveyed a sense of the atmosphere (‘The crowd’s going wild!’) so the listener felt like they were there. His description of events was concise (‘Forget the rest’) and thrilling, with the countdown at the end (‘Five metres … four …’) raising the suspense to unbearable levels. The excitement and jubilation in his voice as he shouts ‘Gold!’ at the end is infectious and helps explain why this broadcast has become so iconic.”

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CLASS OF 1980: Members of the 1980 Australian Swim Team (L-R) Ron McKeon, Lisa Forrest, Mark Tonelli and Graeme Brewer. Photo Courtesy: Ross Willis.

Members of the Moscow Olympic team including Tonelli, congregated – with social distancing paramount – in Sydney this week to reminisce the memorable victory with the always animated Tonelli re-enacting May’s famous call.

Tonelli and May had struck up what was a special friendship and bond up until May passed away in 2016 forging a unique career in sports broadcasting that started with his beloved surf lifesaving on Dee Why Beach in 1957 and saw him broadcast from 12 Olympic Games.

And his most famous call that will forever be remembered as being absolute Gold!

 

1 comment

  1. avatar
    Sebastian

    I have watched that video on Youtube too many times to count. I am surprised the Soviets didn’t try and call the race with a DQ for the Aussies. Thank God they didn’t. The Aussie team won fair and square. Standing ovation!

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