The 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich: a Turning Point in History
The summer of 2022 marks the 50th anniversary of the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, Germany. The games were originally slated to be held in the Japanese city of Sapporo, but were moved to Munich following a landslide vote by the International Olympic Committee. The Games were meant to be a time of peace and unity. Athletes from all over the world came together to compete in the spirit of sportsmanship.
But on September 5th, tragedy struck. A group of terrorists calling themselves Black September stormed the Olympic Village and took 11 Israeli athletes hostage. By the end of the ordeal, all 11 hostages were dead, along with a German police officer. The 1972 Munich Olympics have gone down in history as one of the darkest moments in sports, still the games are remembered as a showcase of athletic excellence. Here's a look back at some of the most memorable and tragic moments from the 1972 Summer Olympics.
The Attacks Begin
It was early morning on September 5th when eight members of Black September, a Palestinian terrorist group, scaled the fence surrounding the Olympic Village. They made their way to the dormitories where the Israeli athletes were staying and took 11 hostages: two weightlifters, two track and field athletes, a wrestling coach, a marksman, and four members of the Israeli fencing team.
The terrorists demanded the release of 234 Palestinians who were being held in Israeli prisons, along with two German radicals who had been arrested after carrying out a series of bombings in West Germany. They also demanded a plane so they could fly themselves and their hostages out of Germany.
The German authorities initially complied with the demands and began making arrangements for a plane. However, they soon realized that they could not allow the terrorists to leave the country with their hostages. They began making plans to rescue the hostages and bring them to safety.
The Rescue Operation Goes Wrong
On October 22nd, nine days after Black September took over the Olympic Village, German authorities attempted to rescue the hostages at Furstenfeldbruck airport. The plan was for marksmen to shoot at the tires of the getaway car as it drove across the tarmac, forcing it to stop so that authorities could apprehend the terrorists. However, something went wrong and instead of disabling the car, gunfire from one of the marksmen hit and killed a hostage inside the car. This set off a chain reaction that led to all nine remaining hostages being killed by their captors.
The event came to be known as the Munich massacre, and led to increased security measures at future Olympic games. The tragedy sparked international outrage and led to an increased focus on security at future Olympic Games. It also brought global attention to the Palestinian struggle for independence and further solidified support for Israel among many nations around the world.
The Games beyond the Tragedy
The 1972 Summer Olympics will always be remembered for both the tragedy that occurred and the athletes who persevered despite it. But these games also marked several important milestones in Olympic history.
The 1972 Summer Olympics were also notable for being the first games to be broadcast in color on American television. More than 90 percent of households in the United States had color television sets by 1972, so NBC saw an opportunity to attract viewers by broadcasting the games in color. The network paid $5 million for the rights to air the games, which was a then-record fee for sporting event broadcasting rights.
The games were also historic for women's athletics. In 1968, just 16 percent of competitors at the Summer Olympics were women. By 1972, that number had risen to 26 percent. One of the most iconic moments from the games came when American runner Florence Griffith Joyner won gold in the 100-meter dash with a world-record time of 10.49 seconds. She went on to win two more gold medals and set two more world records before retiring from competitive running in 1988.
The 1972 Olympics legacy
The 1972 Munich Olympics will forever be remembered as one of the darkest moments in sports history. What was supposed to be a time of peace and unity quickly turned into one of violence and bloodshed. But they were also the first games to be broadcast in color on American television and featuring more female athletes than any previous Olympics.