Recognizing Tragedy as Olympic History

Like most Americans, I was looking forward to the pageantry of the opening ceremonies of the 40th Summer Olympiad that commenced on Friday, July 27 in London.  I eagerly anticipated the parade of nations, each with its flag carried proudly by one of its heroes.  And I expected to be impressed and delighted by the various national garbs worn by each nation's athletes and team members.

However, amid all the pomp and circumstance -- the cheering, the display of sportsmanship as the athletes take the Olympic pledge -- it was and will continue to be all too easy to forget that this is the 40th anniversary of the darkest moment in Olympic history.  For it was on September 5, 1972 that the Games of the 20th Olympiad in Munich, West Germany shockingly turned to a waking nightmare.

Shortly after 4 a.m., eight Palestinian terrorists from Black September, a faction of the PLO, invaded the Olympic village, kidnapping eleven Israeli athletes and trainers.  Upon the initial assault, the Israelis fought back, to the detriment of Moshe Weinberg and Yossef Romano -- shot dead instantly.

Over the next eighteen-plus hours, tensions mounted as the Black September terrorists held the Israelis, demanding that the Israeli government release 234 prisoners held in Israeli jails.

Ultimately, the Israeli hostages were moved and loaded into two helicopters.  After 10:40 p.m., shots fired outside these helicopters led the terrorists to believe they were under attack.

A terrorist shot four of the hostages in one helicopter as another Palestinian tossed a grenade inside. The explosion ignited the fuel tank, and the captive Israelis burned. Another terrorist then shot the Israelis in the other helicopter. Germans present at the airfield still remember the screams. Eleven Israelis, five Palestinians and one German police officer died during the Munich tragedy.

The late, great sportscaster Jim McKay, thrust into round-the-clock duty in an era prior to cable television and 24-hour news cycles, reported with his usual aplomb the events as they unfolded, right down to the final shots.  McKay said it best: "Our worst fears have been realized. ... There were eleven hostages; two were killed in their rooms yesterday morning.  Nine were killed at the airport tonight.  They're all gone."

The games resumed, hardly missing a beat, and for forty years, the tragedy has been swept under the rug -- a permanent stain on the games, permeated by terrorism and rife with perpetual anti-Semitism that even to this day is largely ignored by the global community.

Once again, the IOC (International Olympic Committee), under the alleged leadership of President Jacques Rogge, has denied the numerous requests that this tragedy be recognized with a mere minute of silence during the opening ceremonies in London on this, the 40th anniversary of Munich.

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard wrote to Rogge in hopes of garnering some recognition for the slain Israeli Olympic team at the London Olympics.

The occasion of the Olympic Games in London this summer also marks the 40th anniversary of the terrible tragedy that occurred in Munich during the 1972 Olympic Games.

On behalf of the Commonwealth of Australia, I am writing respectfully to express support for the observation of a moment of silence to be held at the 2012 London Olympic Games opening ceremony, or at an appropriate time during the Games, so that the Olympic movement can honour, before the world, the memory of those whose lives were lost during that horrific event.

For Americans, the question must be asked of Barack Obama, sports-fan-in-chief: where was your letter to the president of the IOC?  You spent so much time and taxpayer dollars overseas attempting to procure an Olympics for your adopted hometown of Chicago.  Did you not want to offend your Arab allies by taking up for eleven dead Israelis?  Do you continue to think so little of Israel while continuing to rake in millions of dollars from the Jewish voting community you take for granted?

The eleven slain Israelis:


  • Yossef Gutfreund
  • Amitzur Shapira
  • Kehat Shorr
  • Andrei Spitzer
  • Jacov Springer
  • Moshe Weinberg

Athletes (wrestlers/weightlifters)

  • David Berger
  • Zeev Friedman
  • Eliezer Halfin
  • Yossef Romano
  • Mark Slavin

May their memories always be blessed.

Sanford D. Horn is a writer and educator living in Westfield, IN.

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