Paul McElhinney: Munich 1972 – an Olympic conflict of sport and politics


Mary Peters, pictured above a year after her gold-medal heroics in Munich, provided one of the most inspiring storylines to come out of the 1972 Olympics
Mary Peters, pictured above a 12 months after her gold-medal heroics in Munich, offered one of the inspiring storylines to return out of the 1972 Olympics

Names like Mark Spitz, Shane Gould, Olga Korbut, Valery Borzov and Dave Wottle got here out of that Olympics as family names such was the extent of their achievements there. Native woman, Mary Peters, grew to become the gold medal heroine of the pentathlon and for a few years subsequently, flew the flag for sport in Northern Eire. Because of her successes on the most highly-charged and eagerly watched of Olympics, Mary joined the likes of George Finest, Fred Daly, Danny Blanchflower and others within the pantheon of Northern Eire sports activities stars.

By no means to be forgotten from that 12 months’s Olympics was the kidnap and assassination of 11 Israeli athletes by the Black September organisation. Though threatened from going forward, the sporting occasions ultimately came about at official insistence regardless of the ugly residue of these terrorist acts.

What shocked the world was all too acquainted to a Northern Eire inhabitants already for plenty of years by a terrorist marketing campaign of violence. The world watched on their TV units because the grisly terrorist drama unfolded. Sport misplaced its innocence throughout that fortnight because it unwittingly obtained entangled within the murky world of worldwide politics. Now, we have now turn into virtually inured to mass terrorist and different violent occasions being beamed into our dwelling rooms. Munich in 1972 is seen as only one in a line of unhappy and harsh tragedies. On the time, it was one among a sort.

Fortunately, it isn’t only for that incident that the 1972 Olympics can be remembered. An incomparable medley of top-level sporting achievement was on show.

The younger, diminutive Russian gymnast, Olga Korbut, charmed the world together with her performances throughout a variety of gymnastic disciplines.

Within the pool, the title of Mark Spitz grew to become legendary. Spitz, the US swimmer, gained a file seven gold medals at that Olympics, a file that was to final till 1996 when it was damaged at Atlanta by Mike Phelps. Australian girl Shane Gould gained three swimming gold medals at Munich.

Valery Borzov, the stocky, explosive Soviet sprinter (from Ukraine) gained each the 100 and 200 metre sprints, a not too frequent double victory, and within the course of chalked no less than a psychological victory in opposition to the People within the persevering with Chilly Battle of the period. Lasse Viren, the dogged Finn, took each the 5,000 and 10,000 metres as solely a choose few have performed.

Additionally within the subject of athletics was the notably eccentric Dave Wottle who excelled within the 10km stroll, marked out by his awkward gait and his placing pink cap.

Notable too was the gripping ultimate of the boys’s basketball between the USA and the USSR, thought-about essentially the most aggressive sport of basketball ever on the Olympics. The slim and controversial win by the USSR gave them additional bragging rights within the ongoing Chilly Battle battle.

Of most native curiosity, in fact, was the gold medal victory within the girls’s pentathlon of the smiley, benign-looking Mary Peters. Her head-to-head rivalry with the German athlete with the poetically-sounding title, Heide Rosendahl, grew to become an epic battle proper all the way down to the very finish. Refreshingly absent was any residual World Battle Two British-German hostility between the 2, with any rivalry primarily based on the wholesome sporting competitiveness. Moreover, as a substitute of terrorist incidents being the staple media food plan, for a short interval, the world was in a position to witness a constructive achievement rising from the province. Mary Peters was the face of this different perspective and a worthy ambassador.

The 1972 proceedings additionally marked a “coming of age” for the Olympics. After the terrorist occasions, now not was safety a minor matter, a development that has solely been magnified over the next years and significantly since 9/11.

The talk over politics in sport has rumbled on as the 2 spheres of exercise inevitably intersect with each other. Many level to the contaminating impact of politics on sport however is it sensible to rigidly ringfence the 2 in a extremely interdependent and interconnected world?

What is for certain is that the world has seen no different Olympics (earlier than or since) fairly like that which came about in Munich in 1972. For sheer drama, pleasure and private and group achievements, it’s unrivalled.

Munich beforehand had been well-known for Beer Corridor Putsches and a failed peace initiative within the run-up to World Battle Two. Previous to Munich, most likely essentially the most notable Olympics was at one other German metropolis, Berlin, in 1936, presided over by Adolf Hitler.

Via the show of many examples of sporting prowess and with the explosive political and terrorist backdrop, the 1972 Olympics indelibly printed its status as essentially the most exceptional Olympics of all time.

• Paul McElhinney, a lecturer, a author and former official within the Division of the Taoiseach, has written many articles in Irish and worldwide journals and is the writer of ‘Lion of the RAF’, a biography of Air Marshal Sir George Beamish.


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