1970s Torquay Summer Olympians

During the 1970s, the Summer Olympics took place twice, with Munich hosting them in 1972 and Montreal playing host in 1976.

The 1972 Summer Games were overshadowed by terrorism when members of the Palestinian Black September terrorist group kidnapped eleven Israeli athletes from the Olympic Village, killing two and taking the other nine hostages. During a failed rescue attempt by German authorities, the remaining athletes and all but three terrorists were killed.

Torquay Olympians Leon Wiegard and Michael Withers returned to the Olympic events as Australian Men’s Water Polo team members.

The 1976 Summer games in Montreal marked the first time the Olympic games were held in Canada. Mindful of the tragedy during the 1972 games, security was high during the Montreal games. Due to its policy on apartheid, South Africa was banned from the games. Even so, twenty-two other African countries sat out to protest. Australia’s athletes set off for the 1976 Montreal Olympic Games with high hopes. We had done well in Munich four years earlier, overall, placing us sixth on the medal tally.

These Games were a disaster, Montreal was the modern lowest point of Australian Olympic representation, the athletes had returned without a gold medal. In total, five medals were won one silver and four bronze. It was the first time Australia had not won a gold medal at the Games since 1936, and also the lowest medal total since then. The biggest disaster however was how our society responded to the poor performances. As the tournament unfolded, continual failure led to bitter recriminations. One headline captured the catfight: “Lean day for our ‘fat’ girls.” Australia finished in thirty-second place on the medal table. The modest results of Montreal revealed how closely sporting success is associated with our national identity – people cared about the lack of medals. The outcome was the establishment of the National Institute of Sport to improve elite and state-based sports programs across the country.

Two swimmers connected to Torquay debuted on the Olympic stage – Jeffrey Van de Graff and Ross Seymour.

1976 Torquay Olympians

Jeff vandegraff

Jeffrey Van de Graaf is an Australian former swimmer who competed in two events at the 1976 Montreal Olympics. At seventeen years of age, Jeff produced one of the greatest, all-round efforts in the history of Victorian swimming at the 1977 State titles. He won no less than 11 individual Victorian championships and was a member of three winning relay teams. His victories came in freestyle, backstroke, butterfly, breaststroke, and medley events. His 100 metres freestyle time made him the fastest sprint swimmer the State had produced up to that time.

Jeff was a Torquay Surf Life Saving Club member, joining as a Cadet in 1974/75. That season Jeff won the Victorian Cadet Surf Race Title and was place third at the Australian Titles. In 1975/76, he won the Club’s Frank Trainer Junior Ironman Championship. In 1977 Jeff won both the Junior and Senior Surf Race Titles at the Victorian State Championships.

Ross Seymour

Ross Seymour competed in both the 100 and 200 metres events at the 1976 Montreal Summer Olympics. The Seymour family’s swimming pedigree began in Essendon, where Ross’s father, Ken Seymour, founded the first indoor learn-to-swim centre in 1960. Ken himself is an accomplished competitive swimmer and VFL footballer.

In 1972, Ross went to the United States to attend Oklahoma State University on a swimming scholarship. Upon graduation and having represented Australia in the 1976 Olympics in Montreal, Ross became a graduate assistant swim coach at Florida State University.

Ross joined Torquay Surf Life Saving Club as a Junior in 1970/71, winning both the club’s Junior and Senior Surf Race Championships that season. Ross also took out the Victorian Junior Surf Race Title that season and was a Junior Surf Race Team member that came third at the Australian Titles. In 1972 he was a member of the Junior Surf Race Team that took out the State title and was also a member of the Senior Surf Race Team that came third at the Australian Titles.

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