The Edmond Sun


July 27, 2012

Ghosts of Munich 1972 deserve London moment

ENID — The Olympic ideal is indeed a lofty one. “Citius, altius, fortius,” or “faster, higher, stronger,” is the Olympic motto.

The spirit of the games is captured in the Olympic charter, which outlines the principles of what it terms “Olympism,” the second of which is “to place sport at the service of the harmonious development of humankind, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity.”

Peace, harmony, dignity are certainly all admirable objectives.

Sadly, the darker side of human nature often seems to hang over the games.

Friday in London, thousands of athletes from all across the world marched into the Olympic stadium, in the wake of their country’s flags, reveling in the moment and nervously anticipating their upcoming competition.

A similar scene played out in Munich, Germany, nearly 40 years ago.

The games were making their triumphant return to Germany in 1972, the first time the Olympic flag had flown over Deutschland since Adolph Hitler’s 1936 games.

They marched in blue blazers and white slacks, wearing matching hats. There were no smiles, their faces set, their expressions determined.

They walked into the stadium behind Henry Herscovici, a competitive shooter, who bore the Israeli flag.

Before the games, Herscovici said he had nightmares of being shot while carrying a flag bearing the Star of David in a German stadium.

He wasn’t. The parade of nations went off without a hitch.

Ten days later, in the wee hours of the morning, after spending a night out enjoying a performance of “Fiddler on the Roof,” members of Israel’s Olympic team were sound asleep in their apartments.

Their slumber was disturbed by the presence of men in tracksuits carrying duffle bags.

They scaled the fence around the Olympic village with the help of some Canadian athletes who were likewise sneaking in after a night out on the town.

But these intruders were not athletes. They were members of a Palestinian terror group called Black September. Their aim was to kidnap the Israeli athletes, to use them to barter the freedom of Palestinian prisoners held in Israel, plus a pair of German radicals.

The Israelis fought the intruders and two men died in the struggle, the wrestling coach and a weight lifter. Herscovici was not among the remaining hostages, as he and several other Israeli athletes escaped.

During the course of the day, the world watched and waited as the kidnappers and authorities negotiated. That night, authorities told the kidnappers their demands were being met, including an airplane to carry them to Egypt.

The kidnappers and hostages were bused to the Munich airport. Helicopters took them to Furstenfeldbruck, a NATO air base, where a plane waited.

There, authorities had set a trap, the goal to free the hostages and capture or kill the Palestinians. The ambush failed, miserably.

In the wake of the botched rescue attempt, 11 Israelis, five kidnappers and one German policeman died.

Another casualty of that terrible day and night was the innocence of the Olympic movement.

Today’s games are a billion-dollar business whose competitions feature many highly paid professionals.

Today, four decades hence, we stand on the brink of the London games, which figures to be the most closely guarded, most heavily insured Olympiad in history. One would think it appropriate to mark the coming anniversary of the Munich massacre in some highly public form or fashion at the London games.

A group of widows of the slain Israeli athletes appealed to the IOC to observe a moment of silence during the opening ceremony to honor the slain hostages.

The IOC refused, instead deciding to observe a moment of silence this past Monday in the Olympic village, before a crowd of about 100 people.

The kidnap drama and subsequent blood-letting was played out in front of the world. So too should be the observance of the anniversary of the massacre.

Is the IOC bowing to pressure from international supporters of Palestine and foes of Israel, or do its officials simply not want to spoil the glitz of the premier of another Olympics with the somber remembrance of past despair?

“They came to Munich in the spirit of peace and solidarity,” Rogge said during the small ceremony. “We owe it to them to keep the spirit alive and to remember them.”

The slain Israeli athletes and coaches deserve to be remembered on the world stage, by the billions expected to watch the opening ceremonies in person and on TV, not before 100 people in a cloistered ceremony.

Certainly the IOC can spare the murdered Israelis a minute.

JEFF MULLIN is senior writer of the Enid News & Eagle. Email him at

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