By: Chuck Hilston
“The peace of what had been called the serene Olympics was shattered.” Odds are that most who were alive remember right where they were at on that fateful day, September 5th, 1972 when the entire world was shell-shocked by an attack at one of the places that was truly meant to bring about peace and harmony among the nations. On that morning, a Palestinian terror group Black September went to the Israeli team hotel, held athletes hostage, and demanded that in exchange for the release of these athletes that there would be a release of 234 Palestinian prisoners. After a badly failed rescue attempt, all the athletes were killed, marking to this day the biggest tragedy in the history of the Olympics and one of the most jarring terrorist attacks of all time. To this day, we are still feeling the after effects from that incident.
What it really did most was take away the peace of mind that people have about going to a place like the Olympics. Being that it was the first games that took place in Germany since World War II, it was a big goal to have things open and friendly as possible. There was little security at events or the Olympic village, and many people snuck into both on a regular basis. Overall, it was a very friendly atmosphere up until that very moment, which permanently changed security around the world as we know it.
At the games itself, pandemonium ensued. There were massive security concerns regarding some of the higher profile athletes present at the games, including Steve Prefontaine and Mark Spitz of the US. "It was the end of innocence," said Spitz. "Today, security is much tighter but the Games have lost a sense of spontaneity, a sense of the whole world coming together in peaceful competition." As much of a tragedy as it was that the 11 Israeli hostages were captured and later killed, it really did end the feeling that you could have complete peace of mind at a place like the Olympics. The way that the current London Olympics are set up, security is so tight that people aren’t even allowed within the Olympic village without a ticket to an event.
After the games started up again several days later, Jos Hermens was quoted as saying "You give a party, and someone is killed at the party, you don't continue the party. I'm going home." However, while I can certainly understand his point of view, I believe that it was ultimately the right decision to carry forward. As tragic as the events that unfolded were, the best way to continue in the Olympic spirit of peace and unity among competing nations would be to continue the games. By stopping them, you are letting those who wish to detract from that message achieve victory. I believe that it set an excellent precedent for how we as a society, when faced with tough times, have to get up and keep on moving.
As of about a month from now, it will have been 40 years exactly since this tragic day. However, it is still a very taboo topic. Even at the time in which the attacks happened, ten Muslim countries refused to have their flags lowered to half-mast. There have been many attempts over the years by various people to attempt to have some type of memorial set up. However, due to the tension and political consequences that may result, none of these have ever taken place. Even today, many athletes from Arabic nations are either forced to or don’t wish to compete against Israeli athletes. I’m not sure what the best answer to a problem like this would be, however it seems to go against everything the Olympics stands for. Hopefully at some point, this tense conflict will be resolved, and we can again think of the Olympics as a safe haven.