(L-R) Kim Peyton, Wendy Boglioli, Jill Sterkel and Shirely Babshoff on the podium after winning the women's 4x100-meter freestyle relay finals at the Olympic Games Montreal 1976 in Montreal.
Not even the 46 years and all the life experiences in between can dull the memory of that night for Wendy Boglioli. It might as well have been yesterday.
It was Sunday, July 25, 1976. Boglioli and the other members of the U.S. women’s 100-meter freestyle relay swimming team — Kim Peyton, Jill Sterkel and Shirley Babashoff — were about to take on the powerful East German team, the world record holders and defending world champions. The East German juggernaut would go on to win 11 of the 13 women’s swimming gold medals at the Olympic Games Montreal 1976, and this was the Americans’ last chance to bring home their first.
“If you put our best times together on paper — the four of us — we weren’t going to beat them,” Boglioli said. “We knew that. We had one shot left. That was it.
“We were either going to go home after Montreal without a gold medal or not. I think we felt a very deep … obligation and responsibility to walk out there and give it everything.”
The U.S. women had watched as teammate Jim Montgomery swam to a world record in the men’s 100 freestyle. In all, the U.S. men won 12 of 13 gold medals in 1976.
“You watch that, and you just get fired up,” Boglioli said. “We had that kind of energy going in.”
Peyton would lead off for the Americans, followed by Boglioli and Sterkel, with Babashoff anchoring the relay. The East Germans led after the first two legs, but Peyton and Boglioli kept the U.S. team in a close second.
“None of us ever doubted Kim that she would do the job that she did,” Boglioli said. “And she hung very close to (East German leadoff swimmer Kornelia) Ender. Any time you can have Ender even in your view is pretty amazing, and she did exactly what she needed to do.
“She came in, I flew off, head down, doing exactly what I needed to do. Go as hard as you possibly can, make every stroke count, make every turn count, and that touch has to be absolutely perfect for Sterkel.”
Obviously, it was because by the time the 15-year-old Sterkel had finished her leg, she had presented Babashoff with the lead.
“She just hung on with so much guts and finished that,” Boglioli said of Babashoff. “She hit the wall, and we just were ecstatic, ecstatic.”
Not only had the Americans beaten the East Germans, but they had posted a world record time of 3 minutes, 44.82 seconds, shaving more than four seconds off the previous mark.
“I couldn’t believe the world record that we set,” said Boglioli, 21 years old and already married at the time. “None of us could.”