Gail Neall was an outsider for the 400 metres individual medley at the Munich Olympic Games in 1972 - and she and her coach Don Talbot liked it that way. She was just 17 years old, shy and tiny (at 160 cm and 50.8kg), and a schoolmate of Shane Gould in Turramurra, Sydney. She had been coached by Forbes Carlile through the 1970 Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh (where she won silver in the 400 medley), but switched to Talbot in 1971. For 12 months before the Munich Games he kept telling her that she would win Olympic gold. “It was our secret,” she said later. “I wasn’t a positive kind of person, but he worked on me, and finally convinced me.” In many ways, Neall’s career as a medley swimmer amounted to a running battle with breaststroke: “It was the bane of my existence. At first my kick was all wrong, and later I had trouble with my shoulders … I got myself disqualified so many times.”
In Munich she swam a personal best time in her 200 individual medley heat, but failed to reach the final. For the 400 medley, she qualified sixth for the final. Her plan was to build up a lead over the first two strokes, the butterfly and backstroke, so that she could afford to be pegged back over her vulnerable leg, the breaststroke. In fact she held her ground on that segment, and won the gold medal in world record time after a desperate freestyle battle with Canada’s Leslie Cliff over the final 100 metres.
Harry Gordon, AOC Historian