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Jim Murray

It Was Costliest Day in Olympic History

September 05, 2002|Jim Murray

The late Jim Murray was in the athletes' village on Sept. 5, 1972. This was his column for The Times.

MUNICH--I stood on a rooftop balcony on the Connollystrasse in the Olympic village Tuesday and witnessed an Olympic event Baron de Coubertin never dreamed of and the purpose of which is as arcane to me as the discus, the team foil, the hammer, individual epee, or Greco-Roman wrestling.

An Arab rifle team, arriving late, scorned the small bore rifle, three positions, the free pistol (silhouette) and introduced a new event to the Olympic program--murder.

Dead were Moshe Weinberg, Yossi Romano, both 33, and, maybe, the Olympic Games, age 30 centuries.

There was great concern the Olympic Games were getting too costly and they are. When they start costing lives, there's a new name for them--and it's not "games."

They became a forum for political protest in 1968 and now they've become a forum for political assassination. Maybe they'll bomb the next one.

Eight guys with hate in their hearts and guns in their hands have turned this whole billion-mark festival into a Middle East incident. They have hijacked the Olympics.

I arrived at the village at 9:30. Most of the non-German-speaking people still had no inkling that the Olympic Games were in the hands of an unofficial, non-sanctioned committee.

The Germans, who had not halted eight armed, homicidal uncredentialed terrorists, now proceeded to solve the problem by barring journalists armed with dangerous pencils.

But the Germans are undone by their own thoroughness in this Olympics. Obviously under instructions not to betray any officiousness reminiscent of you-know-who and his brown-shirted you-know-whats, they have dressed their cops in powder blue suits with white caps as if they were on their way to punting in the park with their picnic baskets. Underneath the pansy costumes were guys who were just as tough and muscular as the rubber truncheon crowd of 1936, but the impossibility of 250 guards sealing off 10,000 people is apparent. The Germans, as usual, had trouble with their occupation.

Inside the Olympic village, the athletes treated the whole event as just another heat in the high jump. Bicyclists bicycled. Runners ran intervals. Occasionally, a crowd would wander out to the checkpoint on the Connollystrasse or the main forecourt of the Olympic village, where now were parked armored cars, tanks, fire wagons, and what seemed like 2,000 guys with walkie-talkies. The chief of police of Munich was in his command post in an olive green van crackling with telephones.

But the American sprinters played hard rock music and played cards noisily by the main gate, the milk bars did a lively business, shotputters compared pushes and a huge crowd filled the television center to cheer lustily as the Cuban, Teofilo Stevenson, beat the American, Duane Bobick.

To most, the affair in Building 31 seemed like a minor affair, like a divot in the long jump runway. It was something that can't be decided with a pole, a shoe, a spear, a paddle or a cross-bar, so how the hell important can it be? If they make it a sanctioned quadrennial event, the athletes and coaches might explore it. But the rank-and-file track-and-field man has never had much interest in nonwinning times in the pistol shoot.

The decathloner, Bruce Jenner, busy getting a rubdown for an event that may not now take place, looked in annoyance at the Arab lookout silhouetted on his balcony vigil and said, "It's all a bunch of ... Why do we have to cancel a day?

"We can walk around that building on the way to the track, can't we? We don't have to go through it."

The point is, the Olympics may find the event in Building 31 one they can't walk around. Now that there is blood on the Olympic symbol and terrorism drew crowds to the Olympic Park the 1,500-meter heats couldn't dream of, they may have to award iron crosses instead of gold medals.

And the Olympic motto may have a fourth to go along with "citius," "altius," "fortius." It will now be "higher, faster, stronger." And "slaughter."

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