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I am a Bicolano by birth and choice. By any standards, I am a slow runner but I like it that way. I look at running as a healthy and exciting way to make a difference. Together with my fellow runners from our family, school, office and the community, we use running to give back..

August 22, 2012

1972 MUNICH OLYMPICS: 40 Years Ago, Knocking Down the Olympic Spirit But Olympic Runners Refusing to Stay Down

The 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich was dubbed by the German organizers as the “Happy Games”. But from September 4 to September 5, 1972, eight Black September terrorist-jerks  took hostage and caused the death of eleven members of the  the Israeli Olympic team:  wrestling coach Moshe Weinberg, wrestling referee Yossef Gutfreund, sharpshooting coach Kehat Shorr, track and field coach, fencing master Amitzur Shapira, weightlifting judge  Yakov Springer, wrestlers Eliezer Halfin and Mark Slavin, and weightlifters David Berger, Ze'ev Friedman and Yossef Romano.

The face of terror at the 1972 Munich Olympics

In the process the Palestinian terrorists hoped to strike a fatal blow to the Olympics and the World.  At the onset, it would seem that the terror fanatics would succeed and have given the Olympic spirit a knockout blow.  In the words of King Hussein of Jordan, the only leader of an Arab country to publicly denounce the Olympic attack — called it a "savage crime against civilization ... perpetrated by sick minds.”  The Munich Olympics Games were stopped on September 5.  But later, on September 6, at the memorial service in the main stadium attended by 83,000 human beings, the then 84-year-old IOC president  Avery Brundage declared in a booming voice “The Games must go on!”.  The crowd cheered, the Olympic spirit standing up from a knockdown.  

“If there is one place where war doesn’t belong, it is here.  From 776 BC to 393 AD, Olympians laid down their arms to take part in these Games.  They knew there is more honor in outrunning a man than killing him.  So you must not believe that running, or jumping, or throwing are meaningless.  They were your fellow Olympians’ answer to war.  They must be yours.”

These are words attributable to Coach Bill Bowerman, legendary head track coach in the University of Oregon as well as that of the US track and field team in the 1972 Olympics.  In Munich, according to  1972 US Olympic team member Kenny Moore in his article “This Is As Scared As I Get. Now Let’s Go Run” at the Runner’s World September 2012 issue, Bowerman never gave a big talk to the whole US Athletics Team.  Rather, he went from room to room, listening to and addressing individual concerns of the US runners, obviously in shock with the terroristic attack.  But Moore and Robert Towne got to compress his words into the five sentences above.

This took some time to sink in for the three US entries in the Olympic Marathon – Frank Shorter, Jack Bacheler and Moore. But when it came time to run the Olympic marathon, although scared, they were resolved to give their best not just for their country but for the whole  Olympic experience and they wanted to share this message.  Shorter said:  “We have to spread the word by our performance that barbarism only makes Olympians stronger.”

Brave souls running for their country and the Olympics at Munich

Franck Shorter (No. 1014) & Kenny Moore (No. 1001)

So, at 3pm of September 10, 1972, five days after the tragic death of the Israeli athletes, 74 marathoners heeded the gun and were off to one of the more famous Olympic marathon ever.    Shorter won the gold medal with a time of 2:12:20.  He was the first American to win an Olympic gold medal in the marathon since 1908. He was faster than anybody else on that day.  Author Charlie Lovett in the book “Olympic Marathon: A Centennial History of the Games Most Storied Races, speculates that Shorter might have cut 10 seconds and thus would have broken the then Olympic marathon record of 2:12:11 by Ethiopian barefoot wonder Abebe Bikila (1960 & 1964 Olympic marathon champion). Lovette wondered if Shorter, ever the gentleman,  slowed because he knew the former champion, since crippled in an auto accident, was in a wheelchair in the stands.

Belgium’s Karel Lismont was second in  2:14:32,  Ethiopia’s Mamo Wolde third in 2:15:08 and Moore  fourth in 2:15:40.  Bacheler, took ninth place with a time of 2:17:38.  The 1972 US Olympic marathon team performance, was,  at that time, the best finish by three male runners from one country since 1908.  Manifestly,  the three were inspired by the words of Bowerman on the Olympic spirit.

Another feat of gentlemanly conduct was exhibited in the Munich Olympic marathon.  This time by Moore.  At the 10-K mark, the hydration bottles were arrayed on tables along the path. An Ethiopian runner, Lengissa Bedane, mistakenly took Shorter’s. Shorter took Moore’s. Shorter couldn’t share the bottle (with flat Coke I may add since Gatorade was still not around) because it was against the rules to aid fellow competitors.  And Moore never complained  during the race and never sour-graped about it since.  

Such is the Olympic spirit among the legendary runners of the legendary Munich Olympic marathon.  The Olympic idealism was knocked down but gutsy marathoners from four corners of the globe refused to stay down and showing that their run meant something. Obviously, I will never be a runner in the Olympics in this lifetime but in a way I will try to share in the Olympic spirit by believing and behaving that running is not meaningless................Never was and never will be.

The latest Runner’s World issue  is where I read the Kenny Moore article which is the basis of this blog entry.  It is also the source of the pictures.  This issue had a Summer Olympics Special.  The picks of Adam Buckley Cohen in the article entitled “Runs for Glory” of the winners of the various running events in the 2012 London Olympics is uncanny in its accuracy.  Cohen got right the gold winners in 11 running events out of 24.  He even predicted the gold, silver and bronze medalists for 3 events (100 meters Men, 100-meter hurdles Women, and the Men’s Decathlon). Other features of the Summer Olympics Special are the 2012 Olympic Marathon Course Map and the Secrets of the Olympians (American marathoners Desi Davila, Shalane Flanagan, Kara Goucher, Abdi Abdirahman, Meb Keflezighi and Ryan Hall).  Go check out the September 2012 issue of  Runner’s World.       

Runner's World predictions that ran true

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