Advertisement

FIRST PERSON

Spirit Perseveres

Games' ideals had begun to be overtaken at Munich, but hope remains today

September 11, 2002|OLGA CONNOLLY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

"May joy and fellowship reign and, in this manner, may the Olympic torch pursue its way through the ages ... ," wrote Pierre de Coubertin in "Expression," a poetic reiteration of modern Olympic precepts that were to "pave the way for a more valiant humanity, stronger, and consequently more scrupulous and generous."

To Coubertin, the Olympics were a meeting of nations, rather than entertainment for nations. Olympic competitors, in his view, showcased the vigor and capabilities of the people from whose ranks they arose and, through appreciation of one another's skills, promoted respect and peace.

Since the beginning of the Modern Olympics in 1896, adherence to Coubertin's precepts has waxed and waned. Munich in 1972, while attempting to re-create Coubertin's idyllic Olympic family, instead exposed the tragedy of the human family.

*

These were my fifth consecutive Olympics Games. I was almost 40.

When I married American hammer thrower Harold Connolly in 1957 and immigrated to the United States, I was a fourth-year medical student in Prague at Charles University. Upon my arrival to Washington, D.C., I received one single bit of advice from a State Department official: To explore diligently the life in this land so that upon my eligibility to become a naturalized citizen I could do so with a true love and commitment.

I followed that advice. When, 15 years later, I was elected to carry the U.S. flag during the opening ceremony in Munich, I joyfully and humbly exercised that privilege, which matched the honor of winning a gold medal for Czechoslovakia in 1956.

I loved Olympic competition. And I loved the Olympic village. There, instead of fears, hatred and suspicion, curiosity about one another led to efforts to communicate with everyone. The easygoing or even more serious chats illustrated that Coubertin's vision of building a civilized peaceful world was worth pursuing.

Yet, although I had seen signs of it in previous Olympics, little did I realize until Munich how vulnerable that vision had become to criticisms that it was elitist and impractical.

Records alone seemed to have captured the interests of millions and, therefore, Munich embraced commercialization of sport as the way toward progress.

Amateur athletic principles lingered among the delegations of nonwinners, but the statistically highest echelons were already contracted by money.

Specialized performance-enhancing pharmaceuticals were replacing the glucose tablets, coffee and vitamins of the old times.

Intense searches for wealthy sponsors shaped medals into bank-safe keys. As the Dassler brothers' rival shoe companies, Adidas and Puma, fought hard for publicity and worldwide sporting goods markets, they showered favored competitors with free shoes and clothing.

"Ordinary" Olympians began to think about leaving their countries for places with better training facilities and publicity agents.

*

The women's discus throw was scheduled for the last day of track and field competition. Having come to Munich in excellent physical shape, with a new technical understanding of my event, I felt confident.

One day, however, several European women discus throwers entered the weight room where I was finishing a training session. After an exchange of hearty greetings I offered to share the bench press area. They said they would wait.

I then put on a show of strength with my maximum bench press lifts--one push with each of about 180 and 185 pounds.

Then I watched them add to the rack another 30 pounds with which to warm up. Oh, wow! The playing field was going to be much less level than I'd expected.

The excellence of European training systems, undoubtedly combined with the effectiveness of steroid experimentation--this was before stringent steroid testing--pushed up the statistics in women's sports far more dramatically than in men's events.

*

A few days later, the competition became almost irrelevant. After the events of Sept. 5, when a deadly hostage plot was implemented, we were all numbed.

I placed a flower at the fenced-in area in front of the Israeli team's apartments.

"That's for you," I whispered to the murdered Israeli athletes and coaches. "The world abandoned you and I want you to know that I grieve it."

I was profoundly upset. The German police tried to save the Israeli hostages through violent means. But since the terrorists had stated to the whole world that their goal was to exchange the athletes for prisoners from Israel's jail, I believed that Olympic officials from all participating nations should have gone all out in an effort to peacefully protect the athletes.

Two nations that had participated with the Greeks in the Olympic Games of antiquity, Egypt and Libya, offered possible shelters in which negotiations could have been conducted. I believe that it might have taken a few days, but had the world governments and Olympic Committees ever internalized the fullness of Coubertin's work, the Olympians would had been saved.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|