World Record Memory Still Stands Out for Hall of Famer Wendy Boglioli

by Bob Reinert

(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.”

(L-R) Wendy Bolgioli, Shirely Babashoff, Jill Sterkel and Kim Peyton after winning the women's 4x100-meter freestyle relay finals at the Olympic Games Montreal 1976 in Montreal.


When no one else thought that they could, the Americans had done it.
“Had we listened to that negativity, history would remember us very differently today,” said Boglioli, “and I’m just really proud of the team that I was with. They were just a force.”
For that remarkable performance, Boglioli, the late Peyton, Sterkel, Babashoff and Jennifer Hooker, who had swum in the relay heats, will be inducted into the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Hall of Fame, Class of 2022, on June 24 in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Peyton, who died of a brain tumor at age 29 in 1986, will be represented by her mother and sister, Boglioli said.
“I’m really just so excited to be in the Hall of Fame,” said Boglioli, a 67-year-old native of Land O’ Lakes, Wisconsin, who now lives in St. Petersburg, Florida. “It’s been a long time coming and I’m just so appreciative for all the votes that we got. It’s just a legacy that I can pass on to my kids and my grandkids.
“It’s something that never has ever left me because it was the pinnacle of my Olympic swimming career. From the time that I was 8 years old, I wanted to be an Olympic swimmer, and not only an Olympic swimmer, an Olympic gold medalist.”
The relay squad was one of two teams selected for induction this year. Also named to the Hall of Fame was the 2002 Paralympic sled hockey team, in addition to eight individuals, two legends, a coach and a special contributor.
The enormity of the achievement hit Boglioli, who had also won a bronze medal in the 100 butterfly behind two East Germans, after the Berlin Wall came down in 1989 and it was revealed that the East German women had used performance-enhancing drugs to achieve their successes in 1976.
Rumors of that drug use had swirled around the Games, but Boglioli had largely ignored them.
“You just can’t let this kind of stuff in (your) head,” Boglioli said. “I just refused to do that. It is what it is. Nothing I can do about that. So, I swam my race.”
After the revelations, Boglioli did realize all that had been taken from her and her teammates. However, in the record books the results from those 1976 races still stand.
“Cheating is in every sport, right?” Boglioli said. “It was so blatant there, and certainly when the (Berlin) Wall came down in ’89, obviously, the truth was out, the proof was there. To think that we beat a team like that was just amazing in itself when you just look at that fact.
“(That) we’re not in the record books, even with an asterisk, to me, and to my teammates, is just appalling. I’m not interested in having medals. I know that my bronze was a gold. I know that I have a world record in that (butterfly) event. How many people can say that?”
Boglioli said the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Hall of Fame recognition atones for some of the injustice.
“We have that legacy. For us to be in the Hall of Fame is just phenomenal,” Boglioli said. “I just give so much credit to the 22 women on our (Olympic) team. That was a phenomenal team. Fourteen American records were broken. Many of them would have been world records had the East Germans not done what they did. 
“My heart and hat always go off to the people that were so supportive and that just got in there and dug deep and fought every bit for every inch that they got in the pool in ’76.”
And none dug deeper than Boglioli, Peyton, Sterkel and Babashoff, who brought home an Olympic gold medal against the longest odds imaginable.

Bob Reinert spent 17 years writing sports for The Boston Globe. He also served as a sports information director at Saint Anselm College and Phillips Exeter Academy. He is a contributor to on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.