The 4x100m freestyle relay was the final event on the women’s Olympic swimming program at Montreal 1976. The swimming competition took place against a backdrop of East German doping suspicions. These suspicions would later be proven true after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the release of East German documents.
East Germany women won all but two events in Montreal. A 19-year-old Shirley Babashoff, who had made vocal allegations towards the East German swimmers, had taken silver four times at these Games.
Prior to the relay, the East German team was heavily favored to win, with American sportscaster Donna de Varona picking the East German team. The Germans opened with their best swimmer, Kornelia Ender, who opened with a seemingly insurmountable 1.16 second lead over Team USA’s Kim Peyton. Wendy Boglioli pulled back time in the second leg. Third swimmer Jill Sterkel continued to pull back time as well and put the U.S. into the lead. Anchor Shirley Babashoff, entered the water with a 0.40-second lead. Babashoff hit the wall in world-record time to win the United States’ only women’s swimming gold in Montreal.
The Americans’ defeat of East Germany is widely acknowledged as the single greatest race in the history of women’s swimming.
The relay team of Kim Peyton, Wendy Bogioli, Jill Sterkel, Shirley Babashoff and Jennifer Hooker, who swam in the preliminary heats, was inducted into the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Hall of Fame in 2022. They are the first relay team to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.