Did you miss your
Login with username, password and session length
American Records from 1896 - 1972
American Records from 1972 - 1992
American Records from 1993 - 1997
Hall of Fame
All Time Best Junior + Senior American Records
Golden Standard Rankings of Junior + Senior Mens American Records
Design for a Quiet, Low Vibration Olympic Weightlifting Training Platform
Golden Standard Calculator
Soviet Height/Weight Chart
Ivan Abajiev Training Lecture
School of Champions
News: Tragedy At the 1972 Munich Olympic Games
Topic: News: Tragedy At the 1972 Munich Olympic Games (Read 843 times)
Chris Ⓐ LeRoux
MS, CSCS, Exempt from USAW bureaucrats
Tread On Me At Dire Risk
News: Tragedy At the 1972 Munich Olympic Games
Jul 02, 2006, 01:37 PM »
End of the Innocence: Bill Bowerman Helped Hold the U.S. Team Together During the Tragedy of the Munich Olympics
By Kenny Moore
Frank Shorter was the only one in our apartment who had heard anything. "I was out on our little balcony," he recalled later. "I'd dragged my mattress out there and had been sleeping there for a week or more. I heard a sound like a door slam." It brought him from fitful sleep to apprehensive alertness. "That's a gunshot." It was about 4:45 a.m.
A few minutes later came the pounding on the coaches' door. Bill Bowerman groggily opened it. Before him stood an Israeli racewalker, Shaul Ladany, whom Bill knew slightly because he'd trained at the Tahoe camp four years before.
"Can I come in? Can I stay here?" asked Ladany puffing, pushing close.
"The Arabs are in our building."
"Well, tell them to get out."
"They've shot some of our people. I got out through a window."
"That," said Bowerman later, "changed the whole complexion."
As he reached to draw Ladany into the safety of the room, Bowerman was the first of the U.S. delegation to know that we had become caught up in the modern Olympics' great loss of innocence.
Bowerman sat Ladany down on his bed, picked up the phone, and called the U.S. Consul. "We've got a problem in the Olympic Village," he said. "I don't know what it is, but I want some security."
"Across the street from us, armed Arabs have moved into the Israeli quarters and we've got Jewish kids in our building, one the swimmer Mark Spitz and another the javelin-thrower Bill Schmidt."
"You've got it."
Thirty minutes later there were two U.S. Marines at the U.S. entrance and two in the halls. "We secured the building," said Bowerman. ...
By 7:30 a.m., German security forces had begun to flood the Village streets. What we would eventually learn was that eight members of the Black September faction of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, dressed in track suits and carrying rifles in sports bags, had scaled the back fence of the Village (with the unwitting aid of some American athletes sneaking in late) and forced their way into the Israeli men's quarters in Building No. 31, on Connolly Strasse.
They shot and killed Moshe Weinberg, a weightlifting coach, and mortally wounded lifter Yossef Romano. They took nine other athletes and coaches hostage in the two-story duplex. Nineteen Israeli coaches and athletes, including Ladany, escaped, some out windows after wrestling official Yossef Gutfreund screamed and tried to hold the door against the invaders.
Once inside, the terrorists tied and gagged their captives, took up defensive positions, and at 5:08 a.m. tossed a list of demands from the balcony to a policeman. To show their seriousness, they threw Moshe Weinberg's body out the window onto the sidewalk.
The Black September spokesman went by the name Issa and said he'd graduated from technical school in Berlin. The terrorists wanted the release of 234 Palestinian prisoners in Israel and the Bader-Meinhof gang from German prison. They said they'd start killing captives at 9 a.m. if there were no releases. West German Interior Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher told Issa he'd have to talk to both the Israeli and German governments and couldn't promise an answer in the 2 1/2 hours until 9. Issa said that would be too bad for the hostages.
West German Chancellor Willy Brandt called Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir and relayed the Black September demands. Her response was short: "Under no conditions will Israel make the slightest concession to terrorist blackmail." The captives' families knew this would be the answer. The captives surely knew as well.
The Israeli position never changed. But the Germans, to buy time, didn't tell the terrorists. They kept saying the prisoners couldn't be located or that Israeli cabinet ministers were out of touch. Issa let the 9 a.m. deadline pass and reset it for noon, then 3 p.m.
Terror at the Games
From our little balcony where Frank had heard the shots, Shorter, Jon Anderson, Steve Savage, Mike Manley and I could see tanks, troops, and emergency vehicles assembling 150 yards away, behind the blocky structure that housed the Israelis. We took turns on the terrace all day, nervously plucking seeds from a fennel plant there, grinding them into our palms, keeping vigil.
"Imagine how it must be for them in there," said Frank. "Some maniac with a machine gun saying, `Let's kill 'em now,' and another one saying, `No, let's wait a while.' How long could you stand that?"
Below, people played chess or pingpong. The trading of Olympic pins continued. Athletes sunbathed by the reflecting pool. It seemed inappropriate, but what was one supposed to do? The scratchy, singsong notes of European police sirens sounded incessantly. Rumors leaped and died. There were twenty-six hostages. There were seven. The terrorists were killing a man every two hours. They were on the verge of surrender.
At 3 p.m. the dissonance between oblivious sport and imminent death finally became too great for the Olympic organizers. A friend in the press village called and said, "Have you heard? The Games are stopped."
"Stopped? You mean postponed or canceled?"
"Postponed for now. But they say it may be impossible to start them again."
I went back to the room ... and wept. I experienced level after level of grief: for the dead and doomed Israelis; for the marathon, those years of preparation now useless; and for the violated sanctuary of the Games. Until now, in my 29th year, I had believed the Olympics immune to the threats of the larger world. It was an illusion, but it had been the strongest of my life. I shook and sobbed as it was shattered.
I was not alone. Steve Prefontaine raged at the terrorists' blindness, at what he felt was their sheer, malignant gall. "These are our Games," he cried. "Anyone who would murder us for some demented cause just proves he can't understand what it is we do!"
When the Germans demanded that Issa prove that the hostages were still alive, Interior Minister Genscher and Mayor Troger were escorted to the second-floor room of Apartment 1 to verify it. "It was awful," Troger said later. "There was blood and they looked desperate. It was not easy to know that I couldn't do very much for them."
Would Troger reflect on Bowerman's warning to him about the Village's lax security? The haunted face he displayed in a 2002 ABC documentary suggested he had for 30 years. ...
The terrorists pushed back the deadline to 5 p.m. Just before that hour, Issa demanded a plane out to an Arab country. The Germans, under enormous pressure from IOC President Avery Brundage to get this horrible struggle out and away from the precincts of peace, jumped at the plane idea, even though standard procedure for hostage situations is to contain and delay. They brought in two helicopters to take the terrorists and hostages to nearby FÃ¼rstenfeldbruck Air Base, from where, they falsely promised, a Lufthansa 727 would take the terrorists to Cairo and then deliver the hostages to Tel Aviv, Israel. ...
From the balcony a little after 10 p.m. we saw two large Iroquois helicopters lift off, wheel around, and disappear into roiling clouds reddened by searchlights. Shorter watched the sky long after the rest of us had finished our prayers for the Israelis' deliverance. "You know," he said with shaken softness, "I don't think it's over."
"They are all gone"
At FÃ¼rstenfeldbruck airfield, the German authorities were hastily preparing an ambush. Snipers knelt on three sides of the tarmac. A team of 17 Bavarian and Munich policemen was assigned to be in the waiting plane, some hiding, some impersonating the pilot and crew. When Issa inspected the plane, as they assumed he would, they would kill him and the snipers would shoot the other terrorists.
All went wrong. There were only five snipers but eight terrorists. Worse, the helicopters would land precisely between two sets of snipers, so few could shoot without hitting others. Still worse, on the waiting 727, the German police team leader, Reinhold Reich, realized that their partial Lufthansa uniforms would fool no one. He polled his 16 officers, who voted unanimously to abandon what they felt was a suicide mission. Everyone ran off the plane just before the helicopters landed at 10:35 p.m.
Issa and another terrorist did inspect the waiting plane, saw it was empty, and jogged back toward the helicopters. The German snipers began firing, killing two terrorists and wounding a third. The terrorists quickly shot out the field lights. The snipers had no night-vision goggles. For a chaotic hour, shots were exchanged in the dark.
The Germans failed to move in more forces. A police assault-team helicopter landed a mile away and sat there. Six armored personnel carriers coming by road got stuck in traffic among curious thrill seekers and reporters. The hostages had no chance of escape because they were tied inside the helicopters.
Finally, just before midnight, the armored carriers arrived and headed toward the helicopters and hostages. Seeing them, a terrorist machine-gunned the hostages in one helicopter. Another threw a grenade into the other. All the Israelis were killed. Issa was killed in the fighting that followed, but three terrorists were caught.
To add to the debacle, TV reporters had found their way to the airfield's locked outer gates. Before 11 p.m., someone with Olympic insignia - no one knows who - came to the fence and shouted, "All are saved!" That word went around the world. The German government spokesman repeated it. Newspapers printed it. Willi Daume brought the news jubilantly into the IOC council meeting.
It was not until 2 a.m. or later that the German armed forces returned with the truth. "They are all gone," said a stricken Jim McKay on ABC. ...
"If they loaded us all into a plane right now to take us home," said a devastated Prefontaine, "I'd go."
Instead, Bill Dellinger, who'd vaulted a fence to get into the Village, persuaded Pre to come away into the countryside. He drove with Prefontaine for a full hour, well into Austria, where they stopped and inhaled truly Alpine air. To keep Pre from running himself to death as therapy, Dellinger had them take a jog together. This was September 6. Assuming the Games went on with only a day's postponement, the 5,000 semifinals would now be on the 8th and the final on the 10th.
Never More Eloquent
Back in our rooms we talked all this over. "The Games should go on," said walker Tom Dooley, "and they will. But for the wrong reasons. The Germans don't want any hitches in their organization. There are the financial considerations. Those people who applauded just want to see who will win the 5,000 and the hell with the rest."
"What are the right reasons?" I asked.
"Just one. To stay together. Who wins or loses now is ridiculously unimportant, considered against these men's deaths. But we have to stay together."
Bowerman would never be more eloquent than in conveying that necessity. But he made no speeches. He called no big team meeting to address us on the subject of how to feel. He didn't want to preach. What he wanted to do was be there, physically with us, in ones and twos.
He moved from room to room, shared with athletes the latest word on rescheduling the remaining events, and asked if people were okay. If anyone wanted to talk, he came in, sat down, and listened. If they'd had the reaction that Pre and I had, that our competitive urges were being sapped by our grief, he'd offer a word of context.
Some were easy. With shot-putter George Woods, who'd spoken so memorably about being an athlete first, Bill asked if it was still the case that when everyone else had gone off on some grand distraction, he'd still be here putting his shot. Woods nodded that it was. It wasn't as easy as he'd made it sound, but he was still here, still ready.
"Good," said Bill. "Good." Woods went on to take the silver medal in the shot.
With high-strung George Frenn, whose parents were born in Lebanon, Bowerman observed that the terrorists in some ways were mirror images of Olympians. They were fanatics, prepared to die for their cause, their suffering people. But that from that suffering they brought forth death. "They surrendered to the cycle of violence," Bill said. "They were every victim become destroyer."
"Your point is we can't be like them," said Frenn, whose temper was known and respected. "Don't go into that cycle."
To George Young and Mike Manley, both teachers, Bill observed that if there was one place where war doesn't belong, it was here. "From 776 BC to 393 AD Olympians laid down their arms to take part in the Games." They knew there is more honor in outrunning a man than killing him.
And with me, he had an answer when I told him what Dutch 5,000-meter runner Jos Hermens had said as he went home without competing: "If you throw a party and a gunman comes in and murders a dozen guests, you don't break out another keg and go on with the party."
"This is no party," said Bill. "This is the species' great moral advance. This is our answer to war."
With time and such reminders, we came not only to see that but also to feel it. "The day we watched as the hostages were held, and the day off for the memorial service," Shorter would remember, "we went through the stages humans must go through in times of brutal stress: from denial to anger, to grief, to resolve."
Bowerman's person-by-person guidance had done much to nudge us there. The question became what to do with that resolve. "We have to spread the word by our performance," said Shorter, "that barbarism only makes Olympians stronger. We have to say, `This is as scared as I get. Now let's go run.'"
Pre Goes for Gold
In the stadium, the 13 finalists in the men's 5,000 meters were leaning over the starting line. Pre's plan was unchanged. With four laps to go he would begin a mile-long drive to run all pursuers off their feet. The field was the strongest ever assembled, the best being Gamoudi, Puttemans, Norpoth, Viren and his countryman Juha Vaatinen, as well as Britain's Ian Stewart and Dave Bedford. Bedford, the world cross-country champion, had earlier been vocal in his opinion that Prefontaine was a cocky little (expletive) in need of quieting.
In the 10,000, Bedford had set a world record pace, but hadn't broken away and finished sixth. Now, he was doing no further favors. No one was. ... The mile passed in 4:30. Prefontaine had been 4:20 in the Olympic Trials.
Pre all this time remained in the middle of the pack, taking elbows and spikes. Everyone else's racing cowardice (or intelligence, depending on how they finished) was combining to create terrible luck for him. Never happy in a pack at the best of times, it was all he could do to keep his cool. He did so by visualizing how great it would be to be free.
They passed two miles at 8:56.4. It was almost time. On the homestretch with four to go, Pre cocked his head, moved out, and took the lead. They had been going 67 pace. He ran the next lap in 62.5 and followed with a 61.2. Only five men were in contention by then, Prefontaine, Viren, Puttemans, Gamoudi, and Stewart.
With 800 to go, Viren passed Pre, perhaps as a little psychological blow against the kid, who had to be feeling his blazing last half-mile. Puttemans went by too, as if he felt Pre was shot and was going to now fall back. Pre responded on the backstretch by charging past both of them and retaking the lead with 600 to go, just where Dellinger had led in Tokyo. He finished that lap with a 60.3.
At the bell with a lap to go, Viren passed him again, and Bowerman said later that he thought the Finn was sprinting too soon, that if Pre could tuck in and draft on his back, he could run him down late. But Pre wasn't hanging anywhere. As soon as they hit the backstretch with 300 to go, Pre moved out to pass Viren. But Gamoudi, who had done this to Billy Mills in the Tokyo 10,000, sprinted by, hit Pre so hard he drove him inside, and made his own charge to seize the lead. Pre was third with 250 to go.
Again, Bowerman felt that if he gathered and waited, he could catch them in the stretch. Again, Pre refused to wait. With 200 to go he went wide and got to Viren's shoulder. He gave a tremendous effort, his head going side to side, but couldn't get past before the turn. Gamoudi cut him off again and went back into second. The top three men ran the last turn a yard apart, praying that after all these moves and countermoves they would have something left in the stretch.
Only Viren did. He drew gracefully away to win in 13:26.4. Gamoudi was seven yards back in 13:27.4. Prefontaine died. At the line he was staggering. The madly sprinting Ian Stewart just caught him to steal the bronze in 13:27.6. Pre was clocked in 13:28.3. He had run his last mile in 4:04. Viren had run 4:02.
In the stands, Pre's girlfriend, Mary Marckx (now Mary Creel), didn't know what to do. "In the minutes right after the race I was upset," she would remember. "I didn't know how to reach Steve through the bowels of the stadium, so I started running up to the top of the stands. I was alone, crying. I couldn't imagine what he'd do. Would he kill himself? He'd been completely shut out, even of the `horrible bronze' he'd disparaged."
At the top of the stadium there was a broad concourse. "You could walk all the way around up there," Mary would recall, "so I began, and there were Bill and Barbara Bowerman. I said, `I don't know if he can take this. I don't know if I can help him.' Bill gently patted my arm and said it was a heroic effort, he couldn't have done any better. `He's young.' Bill said. `He's got a lot of races ahead. He'll be fine. Believe me, he'll be fine. ...' "
Bill and Barbara escorted her down to the "mixed zone," where the family and press could stand behind a barricade and visit with the athletes. There, Mary would say, "it seemed every third person was telling Pre that fourth in the world isn't bad."
Blaine Newnham of the Eugene Register-Guard was one of those people. "I know you feel bad," Newnham said, "but we've got to talk."
Prefontaine said, "I've got nothing to say," and headed for the darkest corner.
Newnham said, "Wait a minute, you've got to talk to me. What about all those people back in Eugene, the people at Hayward Field, Pre's People? They've lived this race for you, they can understand what happened and we've got to talk."
Mention of his people stopped him. Newnham asked, "How old are you, 21? And you finished fourth in the world, how bad is that?"
"Well, that's not too bad."
Newnham said, "Did you run for third or second? No, you ran to win, you took the lead with a mile to go, you ran your butt off, and you finished fourth, now how bad is that?"
"No, it wasn't that bad."
"What he needed," Newnham said later, "was someone to put his arm around him, to kind of hug him and say it's okay, we understand. Pre's People understand. And so, goodness, he started talking, and 20 minutes later he was all pumped up again."
When Bedford came over to say he was the toughest little (expletive) he ever saw, Pre shook his hand thanks and said, "How about us losers have a beer at the Hofbrau Haus later. Isn't that what this is supposed to be about?"
Legacy of Leadership
The instant his duties were over, the instant the last American trackman was safely signed out, Bill Bowerman walked from the Village, swung up and took a seat beside Barbara on a tour bus with the Giustinas and friends, and allowed himself to be driven to Switzerland.
It was a departure, Barbara would recall, with all too many echoes of their leaving Rome in 1960, going through these same Bavarian Alps and imagining, with hope in their hearts, what a Munich Olympics could be and signify. But now, the pinnacle of Bowerman's career had been savaged. Someone on board unwisely asked Bill how he had liked his prestigious position.
"Did I enjoy being the coach of the 1972 Olympic team?" he replied. "Worst experience in my total athletic career."
But it was also, as Barbara came to believe, the most necessary. Bill's problem-solving abilities under fire, his bringing in the Marines, his gifts for sizing up individuals and defending them against the bureaucracy, his putting the Olympic ideals into a few well-chosen words, all kept his Olympians safe and ushered a number through grief to the other side. No other leadership figure exhibited anything close to competence after the terror struck. When mortal pressure was applied, few besides Bill Bowerman acquitted themselves well.
So over the years, when he'd repeat his worst-experience-ever mantra, Barbara would demur and explain that it was the worst set of events ever, but a magnificent use of her man. Those of us who were there would attest to that.
We'd have been lost without him.
Frank Shorter won the 1972 Olympic marathon; Kenny Moore finished fourth. Steve Prefontaine died three years later, in May 1975, in an auto accident; his legacy endures in Pre's Trail and the annual Prefontaine Classic. Bill Bowerman, UO track coach from 1949-72 and co-founder of Nike, passed away in 1999, at age 88.
"Show me the government that does not infringe upon anyone's rights, and I will no longer call myself an anarchist." ~Jacob Halbrooks
News: Tragedy At the 1972 Munich Olympic Games
SMF © 2011
Page created in 0.72 seconds with 34 queries.