Moscow Olympic Flagbearers Max Metzker And Denise Boyd Linked Forever In Australia’s Proud Olympic History 

MOS 1500m prewsentation (L-R) Aleksandr Chayev, Vladimir Slnikov, Max Metzker.
MOSCOW MEMORIES: Australia's 1500m freestyle bronze medallist Max Metzker (right) on the Moscow podium with Vladimir Salnikov (centre) and Aleksandr Chayev. Photo Courtesy Australian Olympic Committee.

Dual Olympic distance swimmer Max Metzker and track and field star Denise Boyd hold a special place in the annals of Australian sport – celebrating today’s 40th anniversary of the defining moment when they led their team into Moscow’s Lenin Stadium for the 1980 Olympic Games.

The Australian team marched proudly not under the Australian flag but the Olympic flag after team general manager Phil Coles asked if the pair would accept the honour and responsibility of leading the team after an historic struggle just to compete in a Games that saw 23 countries withdraw following Russia’s invasion of Afghanistan.

Coles wanted a show of unity in a divided country that saw a casting Australian Olympic Federation vote decide the fate of an Australian team who had to sneak out of the country – a team of just 123 athletes, 27 of them women, wilted down by withdrawals after enormous pressure to stay at home from the Government of the day.

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United Under Olympic Ideals: Australia’s co-flag bearers from Moscow 1980, Denise Boyd and Max Metzker. Photo Courtesy: Russell McPhedran (Hanson Media Collection).

So for the first time in Australia’s proud Olympic history, the team had joint flag bearers and not under the Australian flag which Metzker says: “Leading the team in Moscow is my proudest moment in sport…it’s an honour from your country….it’s something that is bestowed upon you and you think ‘thanks for that it is something I’ll cherish forever.’

And Metzker remembers only too well the moment Coles asked him if he would accept the honour, a special moment in time.

“The announcing of the flag bearer is always a big thing like in Sydney the 500 strong team are all assembled and the Prime Minister is there to announce who will carry the flag into the Stadium…. it’s huge,” said Max.

But in 1980 and inside the Moscow Village, Max Metzker was in the shower.

“I was actually shaving my legs and getting ready to race and I was sharing a room with Mark Kerry when Phil Coles sticks his head in the bath room and says ‘Hey Max….sorry to disturb you mate but I have chosen you and Denise (Boyd) to carry the flag in The Opening Ceremony, would you like to do it?’ and standing there in the shower I said ‘Thanks Phil I’d be honoured’ and I just gave him the thumbs up,” recalls Max.

“So I bumped into Denise in the food hall and said ‘let’s go’. I remember a real feeling of excitement…and Denise and I were thinking “How are we going to carry the flag together ?”

“When you are at a surf carnival on the beach back home, carrying the flag in a march past you have the flag in the frog and it’s just one person but in Moscow we both had to twist to the left and right so we could hold the flag together. Not difficult but awkward…but we got through it well and it was something I will never forget.

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BRONZED AUSSIE: Max Metzker bronze in the Moscow 1500m Photo Courtesy: Australian Olympic Committee.

“I was totally proud. It represented that defining moment of all our struggles…..finally we are here…the struggles are over we are walking into Lenin Stadium for the Opening Ceremony and that was the start of the competition….”

Metzker would go on to take a well deserved bronze medal behind Russian legend and his good friend Vladimir Salnikov in the 1500m freestyle who created history by becoming the first man to break 15 minutes – clocking a world record of 14:58.27.

The pair had swum together in the 1976 Montreal Olympic final, Salnikov finishing fifth and Metzker sixth.

Boyd, a dual Commonwealth Games gold medallist and a premier sprinter on the track and a finalist in the 200m in Montreal would go on to finish seventh in that final again in Moscow – racing superbly against the might of the dubious Eastern Bloc runners.

But their paths did not cross again for 20 years after that momentous occasion.

“The next time I saw Denise after Moscow was 20 years on at the function in Sydney to announce that Andrew Gaze would be the flagbearer in 2000…and they honoured all the flag bearers of previous Olympics, including my old Maroubra Surf Club mate, five-time Olympic kayaker Dennis Green (1972) and they presented us all with a wall-mounted, framed flag and what Olympics we carried the flag and a momento that sits proudly on my wall at home,” said Metzker.

“And how many surf clubs in Australia would have two flag bearers – Maroubra has Greeny from Melbourne and myself from Moscow….that’s pretty special…Maroubra has quite a history there….”

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FLYING THE FLAG: Members of the Australian team happy to be arriving in Moscow. Photo Courtesy: Russell McPhedran (Hanson Media Collection).

Max Metzker, who also celebrates a 35-year career in the NSW Fire Brigade today, reached out to his fellow flag bearer Boyd, now living in Queensland saying in a message: “Hi Denise, just wanted to contact you to say how proud I am of what you and I did, marching into the Olympic Stadium together 40 years ago; you can be very proud of what you did and what we did for the team…we don’t need accolades from anyone else, lets just be proud of what we did.”

And Boyd came back with ‘what a beautiful surprise to get your text Max thanks so much. Hopefully at our 50th anniversary we’ll be able to get together at a function so please keep in touch.”

A small group of Australian athletes led by dedicated decathlete Peter Hadfield and a group of swimmers, including Moscow medley relay gold medallist Mark Tonelli, bronze medallist Graeme Brewer along with Max Metzker’s co-captain Lisa Forrest and Ron McKeon will be amongst a small gathering who will attend a casual COVID friendly lunch at a restaurant at Circular Quay today.

You can’t help but get the feeling that these athletes are very much the forgotten Australian Olympic Team who defied the government of the day to continue Australia’s proud and unbroken Olympic Games history – a fact that so many dine out on – one, officials seem to forget, instead of showing a great debt of gratitude to the brave 127 who went to Moscow without fear or favour – representing their country and upholding their Olympic ideals.

As Phil Coles wrote in the 1980 Australian Olympic Federation’s Official Moscow report: “The 22nd Olympiad for a number of reasons will long be remembered, significantly perhaps, being the non attendance of the US, West Germany, Canada and Japan. While the Olympics prevailed and contests were of a high criteria, there remained an air of sorrow for our absent colleagues. If I may be permitted to repeat the words of the Honorary President of the IOC Lord Killanin: “The Olympic Games are designed to bring people together – not divide them. Let us all hope for the future that understanding will take the place of misunderstanding.”

MOS Isa Wye Karen Van Der Graaf Michelle Ford Joe King Lisa Curry 2

LET’S GET THE PARTY STARTED: Australians Isa Wye (Manager), swimmers Karen Van Der Graaf and Michelle Ford, legendary coach Joe King and a baby-faced Lisa Curry after the Opening Ceremony. Photo Courtesy: Russell McPhedran (Hanson Media Collection).

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