In Munich in 1972, Brad Cooper became the only Australian swimmer ever to win an Olympic gold medal after finishing second. The recognition was a long time coming: a week elapsed between the actual swim, the final of the 400 metres freestyle, and the presentation of the coveted medal. Cooper, 18, had gone to the Games with an impressive and versatile record over a range of distances. Under the coaching of Don Talbot, he broke the world 800 metres freestyle record in January 1972, then a month later won Australian championships for 400 and 1500 metres freestyle and 100 and 200 metres backstroke.
The final of the Olympic 400 metres freestyle was one of the closest of the Munich Olympics, with less than 0.7 sec. separating all eight finalists. Cooper and the American Rick DeMont, 16, swam stroke for stroke and touched almost simultaneously. DeMont was judged the winner by one-hundredth of a second. Then, three days after the medal ceremony DeMont was ordered to return his gold medal. Officials announced that he had failed a drug test and been disqualified. He had taken tablets containing ephedrine, a banned substance. DeMont was an asthma sufferer; he had listed his medication on a standard medical form, but US team doctors were apparently unaware of the ephedrine content. A US team appeal was dismissed, and the IOC announced that the 400 metres title would be declared vacant. Australian officials then protested, and ultimately Cooper was presented with the gold medal. It was a difficult, controversial episode, and Cooper behaved with patience and sportsmanship throughout it.
Harry Gordon, AOC Historian