Monday, July 30, 2012

As the eyes of the world are on the 2012 Olympics in London over the next few weeks, let’s look back 40 years to the 1972 Munich Games where tragedy overshadowed the excitement that usually accompanies the Olympic ideal.
The excitement was snuffed out in Munich when terrorists attacked the representatives from Israel and left 11 dead, and changed the face of the Games forever.
Jim Murray was in Munich and, over the course of two days, laid out his thoughts on the incident.  Normally, Mondays with Murray is one column, but this week we give you two columns . . .

Wednesday, September 6, 1972

Olympics' New and Tragic Event — Murder

    MUNICH — I stood on a rooftop balcony on the Connollystrasse in the Olympic Village on 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, Yosef 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 its 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 terrorist, 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 at 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 is 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 America, Duane Bobick.
    To most, the affair in Building 31 seemed 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."


September 7, 1972

Blood on Olympus

    MUNICH  — "Seventeen dead, three wounded" is hardly an Olympics statistic. This was supposed to be a track meet, not a war.
    Incredibly, they're going on with it. It's almost like having a dance at Dachau.
    How can they have a decathlon around the bloodstains, run the 1,500 over graves?
    There is a wreath at Building 31 in the Olympic Village right under the bullet hole. But there will be ribbons on the playing field and the bands are playing.
    How do you put a funeral service on the sports page? Is an autopsy a field event? Is Beethoven a fight song?
    Hardboiled? No. Bitter, perhaps. Incredulous. Cynical. Shouldn't the Olympics have a wreath placed on its chest? Why does the high hump have to go on? Do we need guy riding a horse in a high hat? Can't we just let poppies grow on this Olympics? Shouldn't things be All Quiet On The Western Front?
    The Games should not be covered from the press box but from the war room. By communique, not communication.
    The most important memento of this Olympiad, joining the succession of Jim Thorpe's shoes, Cornelius Warmerdam's pole, or Rafer Johnson's javelin is an Arab guerrilla's machine gun.
    The Olympic Stadium at Munich with its soaring center-poles reaching for the sky like railroad cannon, or its central tower jutting heavenward like a launch pad for heaven, will never match a bullet-scarred billet or airfield for Olympic symbolism. An automatic should go to Helms Hall before Mark Spitz's trunks. Seven gold medals pale before 17 corpses.
    The German communique from the airfield at Furstenfeldbruck should have read: "Heavy casualties were inflicted on the enemy. One of our Olympic teams is missing."
    It remains to be seen whether the Olympics have been turned into rubble, whether the closing ceremonies were really at 4:50 in the morning on the 5th of September or whether indeed, the memorial ceremony in the Olympic Stadium on September 6 was really for the Games themselves.
    The Germans never seem to be able to run the country efficiently without the generals, and the firing at Furstenfeldbruck could scarcely have been more disastrous. A group of us managed to break into the Village on Tuesday morning after a lively game of "Hogan's Heroes" at three gates. We saw a tableau where armed Germans managed to walk around the sealed-off compound in the sweatsuits of a hundred track athletes and were impressed at the restrain, discipline and even bravery of the secret police. It is not a German tradition to hold fire, but if a fire fight had broken out in the village, they might be burying the dead in 20 languages.
    No one thought, as this Olympics opened, that Terror would be in Lane 1. It is evident that, as the United States and other nations convened for their qualification meets, so did the Arabs' Black September squad. Not even the East Germans were better prepared.
    We stood outside Building 31, a shire of Olympian brotherhood, Wednesday. It was heavily guarded by blue-suited security police. There was nothing to guard but bloodstains and bullet holes, but orders are orders.
    Outside, a lively little man from Hong Kong, a small bore (prone) rifle shooter from that Chinese outpost, whose team was quartered on the second and third floors of Building 31, above the first-floor Israelis, told of a morning of terror.
    "We thought at first it was just some high-spirited athletes returning, drunk, from a night on the town," Peter A. Rull, of Nathan Road, Kowloon, told us. "Despite this, I stuck my head out the door and I immediately heard groaning as from someone fatally hurt. I ran down to the lower floor to notify my assistant chef de mision Mr. (Raymond) Young when I noticed down the stairs this shady character with a sub-machine gun. I saw the huddled figure of a dying man on the floor."
    For six hours the Hong Kong delegation, four in all in this billet, huddled inside their rooms.  Finally Young, desperate, leaped to safety from a third story window and fled down the Connollystrasse into the shelter of police lines.
The guerrillas occupied the corridors and elevator access on all three floors but never bothered the Hong Kong athletes. An hour after the break-in, Rull announced, they planted the body of the slain Moshe Weinberg outside the door and permitted it to be taken off in an ambulance.
    The guerrillas entered not by the street entrance (although the door is always open) but via the subterranean garage. Their knock on the door, Rull said, was accompanied by an innocent query, "Is this the Israeli compound?" A team doctor tried to slam the door on them and, report has it, Weinberg attacked with a knife and was slain.
    There was absolutely no shooting for the rest of the time they were there, only that first burst of several rounds of ammunition. At 11 o'clock, a colleague of mine in the judo event whose competition was over and who had a London plane to catch, braved the sentries and marched down to the bottom floor. They simply looked at him and inquired, 'Hong Kong?,' and he nodded yes and they pointed to the door and he went out to freedom."
    Rull himself climbed to the rooftop a few minutes before the noon deadline the terrorists had given Israel and fled down a backstairs. He had no way of counting the terrorists. "One had a red sweatsuit, one had his face painted black and one had not bothered to disguise. As a shooter, I could tell they had sophisticated weapons and they seemed coldy capable of using them."
    Against this backdrop of violence and terror and burned helicopters, you might be tempted to question the gravity of how we do in the javelin. Can we throw our hats in the air over an Olympic record in the high jump when an Olympic record in exection broke the existing record by 17 and may never be touched?
    They stopped the Games to bury the dead. Maybe they should stop them to bury the Games.

Jim Murray Memorial Foundation | P.O. Box 60753 | Pasadena | CA | 91116

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