Munich 1972


  • Participating nations: 121
  • Number of athletes: 7,123 (6,065 men - 1,058 women)
  • Time of year: August 26 - September 10
  • Number of events: 195

The Olympic Games in Munich had two sides, there was, naturally, the sports and then there was the political side, which culminated on November 5 with a tragic act of terror.

The 5th of November remains one of the darkest days in the history of sports.

17 people died in the terrorist organization Black September´s attack on the Israeli Olympic team inside the Olympic village.

The terrorists were very familiar with the Olympic village in Munich and had no problem getting over the fence and directly into the Israeli quarters. The terrorists ran into resistance from a weightlifter who tried to block the door with his own body, but he was shot to pieces. They then took nine Israelis as hostage. To release the hostages, the terrorists demanded that Israel release 200 Palestine prisoners. If their demands were not met, the hostages would be murdered at noon. The deadline was postponed while the terrorists negotiated with the Israeli government, which rejected all the demands.

The terror drama could be followed close-up by the world media who were able to send out pictures of the masked terrorists inside the Olympic village. In the evening, after nightfall, the hostages and the terrorists were picked up by a military helicopter and taken to Fürstenfeldbruck military airfield. The point was, at least that´s what the terrorists thought, that they would get access to a plane which could take them and the hostages to an Arab country.

But the German military and police raided the helicopter with the hostages in a rescue attempt, which failed miserably. The helicopter exploded, killing nine Israelis, five Arabs and a German police officer. Counting the two Israelis who had been killed in the Olympic village, the terrorist attack took 17 lives.

The Games Will Go On!

During the night, the IOC decided not to call off the Games. The Olympic competitions had been stopped at 2 p.m. on the day of the attack and 24 hours later the Games would resume after a mourning ceremony at the Olympic Stadium.

The decision not to stop the Games came after a long discussion within the IOC board, which reached the conclusion that the Games must continue. The decision was unanimous, even though there were board members at the meeting who didn´t agree.

During the mourning ceremony at the Olympic Stadium, IOC president Avery Brundage said in his speech:

“I am convinced that everyone agrees that we cannot let a handful of terrorists destroy the manifestation of international cooperation and goodwill which is the Olympic movement".
The IOC had thereby established the policy of not folding to outer threats. No threats by terrorists or boycotts would ever be allowed to put an end to the Olympic Games!

Before the Games in Munich, the African countries threatened to boycott the competitions if South Rhodesia was not excluded. The white minority in the country had seized power over the country and unilaterally declared it independent. IOC president Brundage was against a ban, but he eventually had to give up.

He also gave up his assignment as president of the IOC. At the age of 84, he passed on the presidency to the Irish Lord Killanin.

The Reformation Begins

With Killanin as president, the reformation of the IOC began. The attitude towards the amateur issue was softened and China was allowed back into the Olympic movement.

1972 was also the year the doping problem started to become more obvious. Doping tests were administered for the first time and seven of them came back positive.

The GDR continued to impress as a sports nation and took 20 gold, 23 silver and 23 bronze medals in Munich.

The world´s fastest man was not an American this time, but the Soviet Valerij Borzov. His gold on the 100 meters was hard for the Americans to accept, they were used to winning. It was especially hard since the two favorites, Eddie Hart and Reynaud Robinson. didn´t even show up for the start and thus missed their chance to challenge Borzov. The reason for their absence was that their coach got the start times confused, the two favorites were watching TV in the Olympic village when the middle heats started. On the 200 meters, the Americans were ready for revenge, but Borzov was superior to everyone in the final.

On the 400 meters, John Akii-Bua from Uganda made Olympic history with his performance in the final, which broke the world record and won him the gold medal. His show after the race could be seen on TV by billions of people all over the world and it made him the most popular medallist.

Three ImportanThree Importat Finnish Gold Medals

Finland experienced great triumphs in the Olympic Stadium with three really “heavy" gold medals.

Pekka Vasala took the gold on the 1,500 m and Lasse Virén took double gold medals on the 5,000 m and 10,000 m.

Viréns gold medal race was quite dramatic. After running half the race Virén tripped and fell, taking some of his competitors with him in the fall. Virén got up again, but he had fallen behind the lead. The Finn went after the runners ahead of him and was soon close to the lead again. With one kilometer to go, Virén started his long spurt. He ran the last kilometer in 2.29.1. Virén crossed the finish line on the time 27.38.4, he had broken the world record by one second despite the fall!

In the gymnastics competition, one name is still remembered - Olga Korbut, from the Soviet Union. “The sparrow from Minsk" made a fantastic performance and charmed not only the judges, but a whole world.

In the swimming, it was Mark Spitz who dominated the field. In Mexico four years earlier, Spitz was unpopular with his countrymen and was more or less publicly ridiculed when he failed. But in Munich he got his personal revenge - and more.

Altogether, he took seven gold medals - four individual and three in the relays.
The marathon runner Frank Shorter´s victory started a hysterical jogging craze and also helped make marathons popular. Frank Shorter also started his own million-dollar industry in shoes and sports wear, which definitely increased the value of the gold medal for him personally.

Sweden Gets It Together

The Swedish results in Munich were definitely much better than they had been in Mexico four years earlier. Sweden doubled the number of points and took 16 medals, which translated into 13th place in the nation ranking list.

The SOC had responded to the criticism after the Games in Mexico. The organizing had been done differently and the spirit of the team was completely different. It was a team that arrived in Munich, rather than a collection of individual athletes.

The act of terror in the Olympic village also brought on a big change when the head of the Swedish team decided that the women should move into the men´s quarters, thereby letting men and women share the Olympic village for the first time. But it would take some time before the two sexes shared it completely.

Sweden got off to a dream start on the first day of competitions and in the very first event, the free pistol shooting. Ragnar Skanåker shocked everyone by his unexpected victory. Few outsiders were at the shooting range and Skanåker´s gold medal caught the Swedish media completely by surprise.

One gold medal already on the first day gave the whole team a big boost of self-esteem. Many have testified to how they became less tense about their own performance.

The Swedish swim team, who only took two measly points in Mexico, made a real comeback in Munich. This time, the team took 36 points, three gold and one silver medal. Gunnar Larsson took two gold medals and Ulrika Knape took one gold and one silver medal.

Ulrika Is Ready Already!

17-year-old Ulrika Knape wasn´t supposed to be “ready" until the Games in Montreal four years later.

The competition in the diving events was very hard and before the Games there was mostly talk about how East Germany would take almost all the medals. It was believed that the United Stated might be able to take a few of them and that perhaps some jumper from a small group of nations would be able to take one medal. Ulrika Knape belonged in the latter category. Her specialty was the high diving.

The spring board diving came before the high diving and after the first day of the competition two Swedes were in the lead. Ulrika was in first place and her team mate Agneta Henriksson was in second place. Would it last?

The final three dives on the second day started with Micki King, from the United States, taking the lead, which she managed to hold on to. Ulrika didn´t succumb to the pressure and took the silver medal. Agneta Henriksson missed her second jump in the final and had to settle for sixth place.

But all this was much better than anyone had expected and Ulrika´s favorite event, the high dive, still remained.

The expectations were high on the first day of the high diving and they continued to grow. After the first day Ulrika was in second place, only Milena Duchkova from Czechoslovakia was better.

Before the final dive Ulrika was in the lead by two points. One mistake would cost her the gold medal. But Ulrika showed that she had nerves of steel and made a perfect dive for which she was amply rewarded, she got 67.23 points. She now had a total score of 390.00 and the pressure on Duchkova was too great, she missed her dive and finished 20 points behind Ulrika.
Ulrika´s gold medal was the first Swedish diving gold since 1920, when Arvid Wallman won the straight dive.

Her gold medal was a sensation, to say the least.

“Golden Gunnar"

Gunnar Larsson´s two gold medals were not as much of a surprise. He had taken three gold medals in the European Championships in Barcelona two years earlier and his name was brought up whenever the medal positions were discussed. But the gold medal? Yes, perhaps it would be possible to beat the American favorite Gary Hall who Gunnar used to train with.

First came the 400 m medley. During the butterfly swimming, Gunnar lost five seconds on Gary Hall and started the backstroke in third place from the bottom. He lost even more ground during the backstroke and was 7.5 seconds behind halfway through the race.

On the breaststroke, Tim McKee became interested in the leading position as well. Before the freestyle, Gunnar was in fourth place, 2.2 seconds behind McKee. Hall was tired, but Gunnar still had some strength left and started chasing after McKee. The American became numb and Gunnar gained the distance between him and McKee. But was it really the whole distance? After the finish, it was impossible to tell who had won, and the big score board had nothing decisive to say, they both got the same time, 4.31.98. But after a few minutes, which felt like hours, the thousandths came up. Larsson 4.31.981 and McKee 4.31.983, a margin of two thousandths of a second. You can´t win by a margin that narrow. But you could back then. It would have been fairer to let them share the gold medal, and this race did bring about a change of the rules. But the gold medal and the margins were on Gunnar´s side and this was the first swimming gold medal since 1928 when Arne Borg won the 1,500 m freestyle.
Gunnar´s second final was on half the distance, the 200 m medley. The American swimmers were planning a fast start in order to trick Gunnar into swimming faster and thus quickly drain him of all his energy.

Impossible To Trick

But Gunnar could not be fooled and was able to take command after swimming the breaststroke perfectly. On this part of the race Gunnar was in a class of his own, swimming the distance in 37.0 seconds, which can be compared with Hall´s 40.8. In the freestyle Gunnar could not be threatened by anyone and won the race on the world record-breaking time 2.07.17. Hall, the favorite, was exhausted from the fast opening, he missed the winner´s stand and took fourth place.

Gunnar actually had the chance for a third medal - on the 400 m freestyle. But he blew that chance, his 4.09.8 wasn´t good enough to take him to the final. He really fretted over it then, and he still does today. He knew that if he could only get past the qualifying round, he´d stand a good chance in the final. He was that good. Instead, Gunnar misjudged the speed in his qualifying heat and wasn´t given the chance to prove himself.

There were more Swedish medals in Munich and here follows a medal cavalcade:
In the athletics Sweden only took four points, all four through Ricky Bruch who took the bronze in the discus throw, Sweden´s first medal in athletics since 1952. Ricky had been declared “dead" many times by the Swedish press, and after the bronze he stated:
“Maybe I should be pleased, after all, considering that I was declared a nervous wreck six months ago".

Hasse Thomsén caused the biggest surprise when he took a boxing medal for Sweden. He took the bronze in the heavyweight and at the same time made boxing a popular sport for television. The Swedish television had been very restrictive when it came to showing moving pictures of boxing up until the Games in Munich. Now that philosophy changed.

Cuba, which had never taken a gold medal before, now took three medals of the most precious kind. In the heavyweight, a man by the name Teofilo Stevenson introduced himself and it was not his last Olympic appearance.

In the equestrian events, Sweden took the bronze medal in the dressage team competition. The team consisted of Ulla Håkansson, Ninna Swaab and Maud von Rosen. The goal for the team was to take a bronze medal, which they did after having created quite a distance between themselves and the Danish team in fourth place.

Canoeing - An Eastern Eurpoean Event

The canoeing, a traditionally reliable Swedish event, resulted in only one medal, a silver. It had become a sport which was totally dominated by the Eastern European countries, these countries took all the gold medals at stake.

The only one who came close to shattering the Swedish dominance was Rolf Peterson who came very close to defending his gold from Tokyo on the 1,000 m K1. Rolf started out fast, as he usually did, and was in the lead until there were only 50 meters remaining and Sjaparenko from the Soviet Union swept past him in a wild spurt and won by 29 hundredths of a second. Rolf might have started out too fast and he had to pay for it at the end when the lactic acid got the best of him.

Rolf was so exhausted after the race that he could barely paddle to the shore where he collapsed.

He hadn´t yet recovered when it was time for the prize ceremony. Rolf collapsed on the winner´s stand, but he managed to stand up, by the means of sheer willpower, to accept his silver medal.

Unique Double Medallist

One of the other “Swedish" events, the wrestling, had three medal contestants, Pelle Svensson, Jan Kårström and Janne Karlsson. The latter entered in both the freestyle and the Graeco-Roman competitions.

Competing in both styles was becoming increasingly rare, and taking medals in both styles was even less common. But Janne Karlsson in the welterweight became the fifth person in history to take medals in the two styles. He took silver in the freestyle and bronze in the Graeco-Roman style. The silver medal was the big surprise since Janne Karlsson entered the competitions for fun before the start of the Graeco-Roman competition. Karlsson was disallowed in the Graeco-Roman style and the Swedish protest got turned down, which meant that he could only take the bronze when he had the chance of winning the gold or the silver medal.

In the yachting, yet another “Swedish" event, the Swedes took two silver medals through Stig Wennerström in the soling class and Pelle Petterson in the star class. Long before the Games, the yachtsmen had warned that it would be hard to win any medals without increased funds since many nations were now concentrating on the Olympic yachting classes. The Eastern European countries especially.

Archery hadn´t been on the Olympic program since 1920 but now made a comeback. After four days of competitions, Gunnar Jervill was able to take a silver medal. He was beaten by the 18-year-old American John Williams by 47 points.

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