Legendary ABC broadcaster Norman May has died, aged 88.
It was thanks to May that the gold medal call of Australia’s men’s 4×100 metres medley relay team at the 1980 Moscow Olympics became an indelible moment in this country’s history.
“Fifteen metres from the gold medal for Australia … 10 metres now, Brooks in front. Five metres now, four, three, two, one … Gold! Gold to Australia! Gold!”
Apt, for a man affectionately known as “Nugget”.
That nickname was bestowed on him because of his stout body type as a youngster but along with the tale of that call, it grew with him in stature as the years rolled by.
In his younger days May was a talented surfer, rugby player and cricketer growing up on the northern beaches of Sydney.
Doing what most with considerable athletic ability do at a young age he played as much sport as he could.
He went to work as an insurance clerk and continued to follow one his favourite sports, cricket, before his life’s calling came in 1957.
May recounted the chance opportunity, in an interview with George Negus on the ABC in 2004.
“I lived at a place called North Curl Curl in Sydney, which is a beach out from Manly on the south side of Dee Why,” May said.
“And Dick Healy, who later became a member of Parliament, was the state sporting supervisor. He was on a bus one day and I’m travelling to Manly. And he said, ‘What are you doing Saturday
“I said, ‘Nothing’. He said, ‘Come to Dee Why. We’re covering the surf-lifesaving. Will you come and be the expert commentator?’
“I said, ‘You’ve got me’. And there it was. No experience. And I started from there.”
After an impressive debut with the microphone, May was recruited by the ABC as a trainee in 1958. Twenty-five years later, he would be awarded an Order of Australia for services to the media.
His commentary helped establish what many of us have come to know and love about Australian sport.
May revels in television’s early days
With the introduction of television in 1956, May timed his run well, rising to becoming a household name. He made his Olympic commentary debut for the ABC in 1964.
“The first Olympic broadcast I ever did, the first gold medal I ever did, was Dawn Fraser winning her third,” May said.
“She made history – no other swimmer had ever done this. She won in 1956 in Melbourne, 1960 in Rome, then again in Tokyo.”
Former ABC colleague and broadcaster Tracey Holmes recounts the first time she worked with May, having been assigned to cover the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona.
“First of all you think about heading off to the Olympic Games that’s one thing in itself – but alongside the legendary Norman May, that took it to a whole new level,” Holmes said.
“The amazing thing about Norman was that he had an encyclopaedic mind. He could just pull facts and figures out of anywhere.
“There are commentators who are very good at reciting facts and figures but he didn’t just recite them. He put emotion into them as well.”
And true to his “larger than life” character, by all accounts May’s ability to travel lightly was almost as legendary as his calling.
“I swear all he had in that one bag was a change of underwear and at the end of the Games he would throw it all away and jump on the plane without having to worry at all about luggage.”
May worked full time for the ABC between 1958 and 1984, after which he worked in various media and ambassadorial roles.
He is a member of the Sport of Australia Hall of Fame.
Australian Olympic Committee president John Coates said May, who covered 11 Olympic Games and 11 Commonwealth Games during his career, was “an extremely talented man who could make any sporting event spring to life”.
“Australians hung on his every word whether Norman was calling rugby, the races, test cricket or surf lifesaving,” Coates said.
“He was passionate, he was entertaining, he loved a drink and a laugh but he was always a true gentleman.”
Sad to hear that Norman May has died at the age of 88. A remarkable all round broadcaster who was gold to all of us
— jim maxwell (@jimmaxcricket) September 11, 2016