Dates: August 26 - September 11, 1972
Total Athletes: 7,830
While there were some incredible individual and team achievements during the
Munich Games, it would always be a footnote into what will long be remembered
as the most tragic and most historic Games in history.
For the first time in history, it was not the athletes or their performances
that would take centerstage. Rather, it was the infiltration of eight
Palistinian terrorists, who called themselves the Black September Terrorists,
that would break into the Olympic Village and forever reshape Olympic history.
At 4:25 A.M. on September 5, 1972, these eight terrorists broke into the
Village, taking nine Israeli athletes hostage. Little did they know, that they
would also hold the rest of the world hostage as people all throughout the
world, were riveted to their televisions to track the dramatic events that had
occurred at the Games.
Less than 23 hours later, it would be all over. While trying to board an
airplane in an attempt to escape Germany, a shootout would take place between
army sharpshooters and the terrorists. In the end, eleven Israeli athletes
would be killed, as well as five of the Palistinians and one policeman. The
ultimate nightmare had occurred.
This was supposed to be renewed chance for Germany to make good after what had
transpired during the 1936 Olympics at the start of Adolph Hitler's reign.
The Games started well enough before 80,000 enthusiastic spectators in Olympic
Stadium, built especially for the Olympic Games. Munich had invested some $600
million into the Olympic effort, more than 10 times that of Tokyo eight years
The 122 nations and 7,830 athletes once again established an Olympic record. It
was unfortunate that the events that would take place 10 days later, would
tarnish the incredible performances of some of the following athletes: Russian
gymnast Olga Korbut, U.S. marathon winner Frank Shorter, Soviet Union's
splendid sprinter Valeri Borzov, U.S. runner Dave Wottle, Finnish runner Lasse
Viren, Cuban boxer Teofila Stevenson and U.S. swimmer Mark Spitz.
IOC president Avery Brundage made a controversial but in the end a very wise
decision to continue the Games. To end them as many would have liked, could
have and would have given in to the whim of terrorists, who had intended to
destroy the commraderie of the Games. If nothing else, athletes came together
like never before.
The darling of the Games was Korbut, the cute and bubbly princess of
gymnastics. Her remarkable performances in floor exercises, would spark a
worldwide attraction to her sport.
Shorter, the Yale graduate, would run for underdogs worldwide and win the
marathon. Borzov, christened "the world's fastest human" would dominate the
sprint events, while 16-year old Ulrike Meyfarth, would capture the interests
of her homeland by winning the gold with a world-record high jump of six feet,
3 1/2 inches, just a half inch below her own height.
Wottle would gain notoriety by combining his honeymoon with his Olympic
performance by capturing the gold in the 800 meters. Wottle's wore his
trademark golf hat during the performance.
Viren picked up the banner of his former countrymen, Paavo Numi, Vitola and
Kolehmainen by becoming only the fourth Olympian in history to win the 5,000
and 10,000-kilometer races in the same Games. Viren won the 10,000 meter in
world record time, despite slipping early in the race, and raced and won a heat
for the 5,000 and the final as well to walk off with the gold.
An argument could be made that 20-year old Teofilo Stevenson, the mammoth 6-
foot-3 1/2 boxer from Cuba, could be the greatest boxer in Olympic history.
Stevenson, who never wavered in his decision to turn pro, fought 12 Olympic
bouts, and became the first Olympian boxer to win three gold medals in a single
weight class. Most boxers turn pro immediately after their Olympic experience.
Stevenson made his Olympic career debut in '72 and methodically made his way
through each opponent. He disposed of Polish boxer Ludwik Denderys in just one
round, got past American Duane Bobick, who had beaten Stevenson in the
semifinals of the Pan American Games a year earlier, in the third round.
Stevenson capped off his performance with a knockout of Germany's Peter Hussing
in four minutes and three seconds of his gold medal winning bout.
No analysis of the '72 Games could be official without the name of Mark Spitz.
Spitz, who had earned a pair of gold medals, albeit on relay teams in Mexico,
was ready to generate noise in what would be a historic setting performance.
Spitz got off to a quick start by capturing the gold in his strongest event,
the 200-meter butterfuly in a world-record time of 2:00.70. Spitz had finished
last in this event in the '68 Olympics in Mexico City.
An hour later, Spitz would capture his second gold in the 4 x 100 meter
freestyle relay in world record time. The brash 22-year old would go on to win
gold in the 200 meter freestyle, the 100 meter butterfly, the 4x200-meter
freestyle relay, the 100 meter freestyle and the 4x100-meter medley relay.
He shattered the record of most gold medals in one Olympics, previously held by
Italian fencer Nedo Nadi, who earned five in 1920.
One of the biggest atrocities of the Games came in men's basketball. Basketball
officials gave the Russians three separate attempts to win the game in the
final seconds of a hotly contested gold medal match. A controversial rules
interpretation allowed Russia the chance to win the game and the gold medal
with a 50-49 victory. American were so enraged by the officials, they would not
accept their silver medals.
Other problems ensued. The Pakistan field hockey team, was so enraged with
officials decisions during their finals match with Germany, they stormed the
judges table following their match and poured water over the heads of the
judges. They then took the victory stand and refused to stand at attendion
during the playing of the German national anthem. So enraged was the IOC, that
all 11 members received lifetime bans from the Olympics.
They were not alone as American sprinters Vince Matthews and Wayne Collett were
banned from future Olympics for talking with one another on the medals stand
during the playing of their countries' national anthem.
The only teams to leave the Olympics following the massacre were Norway and the
Netherlands. Spitz, an American Jew, who won his seventh gold medal on
September 4, found out about the hostage taking during a press conference the
next morning and abruptly left the news conference and Germany for good,
thinking that he would have been a likely target.
This would be the final Olympics for IOC president Avery Brundage.