“They’re All Gone”
What I remember most is the fear. I remember vividly the first thing I was ever conscious of being terrified of. It was a man in a mask on a balcony in Munich — not that I could have found Munich on a map. I think I was only vaguely aware that it was in then West Germany. In my defense, I was four.
The Olympic Games had been halted because Palestinian gunmen had sneaked into the Olympic Village and taken 11 Israeli athletes and coaches hostage, eventually killing them. When it was confirmed that all 11 were dead, late sportscasting giant Jim McKay, who was ABCs Olympics host, spoke the words that that he became as famous for as he was for the Wide World of Sports introduction, “They’re all gone.”
Odd, I guess, that I don’t remember the words. It’s the most famous line from the most infamous moment in Olympic history and it’s among the parts that don’t recall. Again, in my defense I was four.
I remember other things about those Olympics. I remember Mark Spitz getting Gold Medals, though I don’t remember any of the individual races. Then again, I was four. I remember being at the apartment of some friends of my parents after the Games had resumed. There was a boxing match on. I don’t remember the basketball controversy, though I know the story now.
But again, mostly I remember the fear. I remember being afraid of the guy in the mask. I remember being afraid of the guy in the hat. I remember looking around for them in different places, wondering if they would come get somebody else.
I also remember being afraid of gorillas for a long time. I blame McKay for that. Well, McKay and homophones, I guess. What can I say, I was four.
The fear left long ago, replaced with an understanding that those bad guys weren’t coming for me or anybody else. That and a fear of heights and clowns, but everybody should be afraid of clowns. Those things are creepy as hell.
The guy in the mask stood on the balcony 40 years ago. The Olympics open Friday night for the tenth time since the tragedy in Munich and they’ll open without official mention of the incident. There will be no moment of silence hoped for by the families of the slain Israelis and called for by President Obama, Secretary of State Clinton and the German and Israeli governments.
International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge says that he doesn’t feel that the celebratory Opening Ceremonies are the appropriate venue for such a commemoration. He may have a point there. As somebody who has written a number of scripts for event openings, pre-games and the like, I can hardly disagree with him. Nothing takes the air out of the room like a moment of silence. After all, there will be other events. There will be a reception on August 6 in London and a memorial Rogge will attend at the airport where the hostages were killed on Sept. 5 – the actual 40th anniversary of the nightmare.
Another argument you hear against a moment of silence, or other recognition of the tragedy, is the cry not to politicize the Olympics. Never mind that a moment of silence would be to remember not so much a country as fellow Olympians – believers in the ideals of the Games who had come to compete in the Olympic Spirit. The “don’t politicize the Games” ship sailed ages ago. If not before, it definitely left the dock in Berlin in 1936. It sets off again each time a block of countries boycotts for one reason or another and each time that – like in 1936 – an oppressive regime is given the Games and uses them as an opportunity to tout its alleged softer side. Most of what made the Olympics a Cold War-era powerhouse was political – the seemingly never-ending conflict between the USA and its allies and the Soviet Bloc nations were must-see TV every four (and eventually every two) years until the Berlin Wall fell.
And then you get back to the fear. A moment of silence likely wouldn’t be well received by all in attendance, given the fact that one nation taking part has both called for the elimination of Israel and won’t allow its athletes to compete against Israelis.
Given the options, you would hope that the poor excuse of “it would ruin the party” really is the basis of denying the request for the moment of silence, because if that’s not it – if it really is about fear – then not much has changed in 40 years.