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MUNICH OLYMPICS: 30 YEARS LATER

Sept. 5, 1972: Day 11

September 05, 2002|Randy Harvey

HEADLINES

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Nine Olympic Hostages Die in Shootout

In a blaze of gunfire and explosions at a military airport west of Munich, nine Israeli hostages, all members of the country's delegation to the Olympics, five Palestinian terrorists and a West German policeman died. The bloodbath came after West German police opened fire on the Arabs as they were in the process of transferring the hostages from helicopters to a waiting transport plane. Two other members of the Israeli team were killed earlier in the day inside their quarters at the athletes' village. The tragedy caused the first suspension in the history of the Modern Olympics and cast in doubt the final days of the Games.

Spitz Hastens Trip Home After Killings

Swimmer Mark Spitz, who a day before had won the seventh of his gold medals, left Munich within hours of learning of the terrorist attack. He flew to London and stayed overnight before continuing his trip home to California. Spitz, who is Jewish, said his trip was premature, but "I had not planned to stay up to the end of the Games."

'Great White Hope' Bobick TKO Victim

Almost simultaneous with the announcement that the Games had been suspended, Duane Bobick, a heavyweight from Bowlus, Minn., took a savage beating from Cuban Teofilo Stevenson in a quarterfinal bout. The fight was stopped in the third round. Bobick had won 62 consecutive fights.

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QUOTE

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"We Shall Overcome.''

--Song sung by athletes in the Olympic village while waiting for a conclusion to the hostage crisis

POSTSCRIPT

It came as no surprise that Avery Brundage's 36 years as an IOC member, the last 20 as its most influential president since Pierre de Coubertin, ended in controversy. In his 1972 book published just before the Munich Games, "All That Glitters Is Not Gold," author William Oscar Johnson wrote, "Over the years, Avery Brundage has made hundreds of speeches and uttered millions of words, always in the manner of a man who cares not a whit where the chips may fall."

Perhaps coincidentally, Brundage, a self-made millionaire through investments in the Depression-era stock market and, later, construction in Chicago, caused the most irritation on issues involving the 20th century's two Summer Olympics in Germany.

In 1936, as president of the U.S. Olympic Committee, he triumphed in a raging national debate, arguing that the United States should participate in the Berlin Summer Games despite increasing evidence of the menace threatened by Hitler's Third Reich.

He went on a fact-finding visit to Germany in 1934, eliciting a promise--later broken--by government officials that Germany's Jewish athletes would be treated equally in efforts to qualify for the Olympic team. He charged that "certain Jews must now understand that they cannot use these Games as a weapon in their boycott against the Nazis."

Olympic historian and filmmaker Bud Greenspan says Brundage, a member of the isolationist America First Committee until the United States' entry into World War II, was anti-Semitic. It is not a unique opinion. Another view presented by historians is that Brundage, like his mentor, De Coubertin, was so committed to the Olympic Games that he would abide by no intrusion of politics, no matter how odious those politics might be.

Author John Hoberman, in his 1986 book, "The Olympic Crisis," referred to Brundage's world view as "amoral universalism."

That is consistent with his actions in 1972, when Brundage, 84, presided over his final Olympics. He suffered a rare loss in the days before the opening ceremony when the African nation of Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, was ousted from the Games because of its policy of racial apartheid. Other African nations had threatened to boycott if Rhodesia was allowed to participate.

Then, even after 11 members of the Israeli team were killed, Brundage decided against canceling the rest of the Olympics, vowing that the Games must go on. Reaction from around the world was mixed.

"We have only the strength of a great ideal," he said during a memorial service the next day. "I am sure the public will agree that we cannot allow a handful of terrorists to destroy this nucleus of international cooperation and goodwill we have in the Olympic movement."

Many, indeed, did agree.

But Brundage again exhibited his misplaced priorities during his speech when he compared the Palestinian terrorist invasion of the athletes' village to the campaign to expel Rhodesia from the Games, claiming that the Olympics had suffered from "two savage attacks."

Brundage later apologized, but U.S. marathoner Frank Shorter called him a "pompous ass."

U.S. basketball player Tom McMillen later wrote in his book, "Out of Bounds," that Brundage had tried to "convert the memorial service into a pep rally."

As Brundage departed from the Olympic stage after the Munich Games, he stood virtually alone against professionalism and commercialism. He married into German royalty a year later and died, in Germany, in 1975 at age 87.

"One can admire the strength of his stance more than the substance of his views," Johnson wrote.

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