In 1976, Montréal became the first Canadian city to host the Olympic Games. The XXIst Olympiad, held from 17 July to 1 August 1976, included memorable performances from many athletes, including Romanian gymnast Nadia Comaneci and American decathlete Bruce Jenner. Although Canada did not win a gold medal at the Games, the Canadian team won 11 medals in total —more than double the number of medals won at each of the previous two Olympic Games. The Olympic facilities, while costly, became Montréal landmarks and many are still used for training and competition.

The Olympic Bid

On a trip to Lausanne in 1963, Montréal mayor Jean Drapeau visited a museum located in the same building as the International Olympic Committee (IOC) offices. From then on, he began planning to obtain the Olympic Games for Montréal. (Drapeau’s legacy also includes Expo ’67, the Montréal Metro, and the Montreal Expos.)

On 4 December 1969, Montréal filed its application with the IOC to bid on the 1976 Olympics, as did Moscow and Los Angeles. For Montréal this was a sixth attempt following initiatives to host the 1932, 1936, 1944, 1956 and 1972 Games.

On 12 May 1970 in Amsterdam, the IOC announced that Montréal would host the Games of the XXIst Olympiad, to be held from 17 July to 1 August 1976. The Games would be the first Olympics hosted by a Canadian city.

Facilities

The Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games (OCOG), headed by president and commissioner Roger Rousseau, was responsible for planning and overseeing the construction of Olympic facilities, as well as the financing and operation of the Games.

The committee oversaw the construction of the Stadium (which later housed the Montreal Expos), the Swimming Pool, the Olympic Basin, the Velodrome, the Olympic Village, the Claude Robillard Centre and the Étienne Desmarteau Centre. In addition to erecting new facilities, presenting the Olympic Games called for improvements to existing ones.

Elaborate designs and labour strikes contributed to heavy construction costs. The original cost of the Games was estimated first at $120 million (1970) and then $310 million (1973). However, the final tally was $1.6 billion (it took 30 years to pay off the debt). The Olympic facilities became Montréal landmarks and many are still used for training and competition, although the Velodrome is now the Montréal Biodome, an indoor nature exhibit.

The Olympic Torch

An important part of the Olympic Games is the torch relay. On 13 July 1976, before a gallery of dignitaries, Maria Moscholiou (acting as high priestess of the flame) knelt near the Temple of Hera in Olympia and lit the Olympic flame. The relay then travelled more than 550 kilometres on Greek soil before reaching Athens on 15 July; there, the flame was placed before a sensor, which detected the ionized particles of the flame and converted them into impulses that were transmitted by satellite. In Ottawa, a receiver picked up the signal and triggered a laser beam that recreated the flame, starting the Canadian leg of the torch’s journey to Montréal. It was the first time such technology had been used to transmit the Olympic flame.

On the evening of 16 July, former marathoner Gérard Côté lit the cauldron on Mount Royal. The next day at 3:30 p.m., 16 Canadian athletes carried the flame in turn until it reached the Olympic Stadium where the opening ceremonies were unfolding. In total, the Olympic torch was carried by 1,214 runners.

Opening Ceremonies

On 17 July 1976, at 3:00 p.m. more than 73,000 people gathered in the Olympic Stadium to take part in the Opening Ceremonies of the Montréal Olympics. The rituals began with the arrival of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, accompanied by Prince Philip and Prince Andrew and by IOC president Lord Killanen and Commissioner of the Games Roger Rousseau.

This was followed by the procession of athletes into the stadium. After the Queen officially opened the Games, the Olympic flame was carried into the stadium by two 15-year-old athletes, Sandra Henderson from Toronto and Stéphane Préfontaine from Montréal, to the sounds of the Olympic Cantata written by Louis Chantigny.

Participation and African Boycott

In total, 6,084 athletes (1,260 women and 4,824 men) from 92 nations took part in the Olympic Games. However, this did not include athletes from 22 African countries that officially withdrew from the Games due to the sporting links between New Zealand and apartheid South Africa. The central issue was the refusal of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to ban New Zealand, whose rugby team (the All Blacks) was touring South Africa. (Due to its apartheid policies, South Africa itself was banned from the Olympic Games from 1964 to 1992.) According to Kenyan foreign minister, James Osogo, the IOC decision not to ban New Zealand would give “comfort and respectability to the South African racist regime and encourage it to continue to defy world opinion.”

This meant the loss of over 440 competitors (173 from athletics alone), including world class runners like Filbert Bayi from Tanzania (who held the world record in the 1500m) and John Akii-Bua from Uganda (who held the world record in the 400 metres hurdles). Moreover, Montréal lost a million dollars in seat refunds and event cancellations in the first two days of the Games.

Olympic Disciplines

The programme at the Montréal Games included 198 events representing 23 Olympic sports. These events took place at 27 competition sites, several located outside of Montréal (including Kingston, which hosted the sailing events). Significantly, women would compete in basketball, handball and rowing competitions for the first time in the Olympics (for more information about women in sports, see The History of Canadian Women in Sport).

Sports

Athletics

Gymnastics

Diving

Rowing

Weightlifting

Equestrian sports

Basketball

Handball

Shooting

Boxing

Field hockey

Archery

Canoe-kayaking

Judo

Sailing

Cycling

Wrestling

Volleyball

Fencing

Swimming

Water polo

Football (soccer)

Modern pentathlon

Outstanding Performances

During the Montréal Olympics, athletes set more than 45 new Olympic records, including 23 in swimming and 18 in athletics.

Swimming

At the Olympic Pool, members of the powerful East German women's team recorded 11 new Olympic scores while in men’s competition, the Americans dominated, breaking 11 records. Canadian swimmers picked up eight medals in the pool, including Nancy Garapick’s two bronze medals.

Gymnastics

One of the highlights of the Montreal Olympics was the exceptional performance of Nadia Comaneci, a 14-year-old Romanian gymnast, who achieved the first perfect mark (10) in the uneven bars. She so impressed the judges, that she received seven perfect scores at the Games. Comaneci, the uncontested queen of the Montreal Games, contributed to the popularity of gymnastics among a generation of young girls.

Weightlifting

Another crowd favourite was powerful Russian weight lifter Vasily Alekseyev, who lifted more than 255 kg in one competition (the clean and jerk). In his two competitions combined, he lifted 440 kg — nearly half a ton.

Boxing

In boxing, three gold medalists, Leon and Michael Spinks and Ray Charles (Sugar Ray) Leonard, demonstrated the prowess that would later lead to world championship titles.

Athletics

At the Olympic Stadium the crowd witnessed many noteworthy performances, including 18 Olympic records. American Bruce Jenner roused the public by shattering the decathlon record. His compatriot, Edwin Moses, followed suit, breaking the world record in the 400 metre hurdles. Poland's Irena Szewinska won gold in the women’s 400 metre and established a new world record.

In middle distance competition, Cuban Alberto Juantorena dedicated his victory in the 800 metres to Fidel Castro, while Soviet Tatiana Kazankina won gold in the women’s 800 and 1,500 metre races. In the women's 800 metre final, the four fastest competitors shattered the world record.

In distance running, Finn Lasse Viren repeated his 1972 Munich Olympics feat by winning gold in the 5,000 and 10,000 metres. In the marathon, he finished fifth while East German Waldemar Cierpinski set a new Olympic time.

Results and Closing Ceremonies

The Montréal Olympics ended on 1 August 1976 with the closing ceremonies. The colourful show included more than 500 dancers forming the five Olympic rings. As a tribute to the First Nations, several hundred Aboriginal people were invited to set up wigwams inside the rings. The audience gave Mayor Jean Drapeau, the instigator of the Games, a standing ovation.

At the completion of the Games, the USSR ranked at the top with 49 gold medals, 41 silver, and 35 bronze. Canada placed 27th with 11 medals (five silver medals and six bronze) —more than double the number of medals won at each of the previous two Olympic Games.

Canadian Medals

Silver Medals

Greg Joy

athletics

high jump

John Wood

canoeing

C-1, 500 m

Michel Vaillancourt

equestrian

jumping

Cheryl Gibson

swimming

400 m individual medley

Stephen Pickell, Graham Smith, Clay Evans, Gary MacDonald

swimming

relay 4 X 100 m medley

Bronze Medals

Nancy Garapick

swimming

100 m backstroke

Nancy Garapick

swimming

200 m backstroke

Shannon Smith

swimming

400 m freestyle

Becky Smith

swimming

400 m individual medley

Gail Amundrud, Barbara Clark, Becky Smith, Anne Jardin

swimming

relay 4 X 100 m freestyle

Wendy Cook, Robin Corsiglia, Susan Kelsey, Anne Jardin

swimming

relay 4 X 100 m medley