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Massacre at the 1972 Munich Olympics

The Story

Confusion, disbelief, sorrow. The raw emotions are captured in this CBC Television news special about the massacre of 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Games. What is clear is that members of the Palestinian group Black September slipped into the Olympic Village and took the athletes and coaches hostage. What remains murky is exactly how, at a military airport 21 hours later, a botched rescue mission ended with every hostage dead. The CBC reacts as a sports event becomes a huge international news story. Cameras capture gunfights and armoured personal carriers roaring through the night. Bob Moir, a CBC Sports commentator, records the impressions of Canadians who had a front seat for the unfolding nightmare. One describes watching the Israeli hostages being led away. "I just had a terrible feeling of foreboding that this was the last we'd see of them -- and I'm afraid that was correct." 

Medium: Television
Program: 1972 Olympics
Broadcast Date: Sept. 6, 1972
Reporter: Bob Moir
Duration: 3:53

Did You know?

• During the standoff, CBC Television's Bob Moir and Don Wittman crawled under a fence to get into the Olympic Village and the evacuated Canadian quarters. They were positioned directly across a courtyard from the Israeli dormitory. Wittman, a veteran sportscaster, later described a bizarre scene where the Olympic security chief took him up to a balcony and whistled. The noise brought one of the hooded, gun-wielding attackers onto a balcony in the Israeli dorm.

• On the night of Sept. 4, 1972, the Israeli athletes had enjoyed a night out, seeing a performance of Fiddler on the Roof before returning to the Olympic Village. Early the next morning, the Black September members, clad in tracksuits and carrying guns in duffel bags, jumped a two-metre fence surrounding the village. Israeli wrestling referee Yossef Gutfreund investigated a noise at the door and tried to close it on the attackers. He yelled "Take cover, boys!"

• Two awakened athletes escaped through doors and windows. Eight others successfully hid in the complex. Weightlifter Yossef Romano grabbed an intruder's gun but was shot. Wrestling coach Moshe Weinberg was also killed after he attacked one intruder with a knife. Nine other athletes were seized and tied to furniture. The Palestinians demanded the freeing of 234 prisoners in Israel and two gang leaders in West Germany, as well as safe passage to Cairo.

• West German authorities flew the hostage-takers and Israelis to a nearby air base in helicopters. German police opened fire on four of the Palestinians between the helicopters and a waiting jet. During an ensuing gun battle that lasted about 75 minutes, until just before midnight, a hostage-taker lobbed a grenade into a helicopter containing tied-up Israelis. When the gunfire ended, all nine Israelis were dead, as were one German police officer and five Palestinians.

• Thanks to television satellite technology, an estimated one billion people around the world watched the crisis as well as a hastily arranged memorial service for Romano, Weinberg, Amitzur Shapira, David Marc Berger, Andrei Spitzer, Mark Slavin, Kehat Shorr, Zeev Friedman, Yacov Springer, Eliezer Halfin and Yossef Gutfreund. ABC sportscaster Jim McKay, who anchored live coverage of the crisis for the American network, told Associated Press in 2002: "Sports lost its innocence that day in Munich."

• In a Sept. 6, 1972, Toronto Star column, radio and TV critic Jack Miller praised ABC's live coverage of the massacre. He particularly lauded sportscaster McKay's heartfelt, but not maudlin, commentary during the tension-filled standoff. Miller wrote that CBC Television, on the other hand, goofed by sticking with regular daytime programming. While most of the world watched Munich live, CBC viewers got Elwood Glover's Luncheon Date and day-old Olympic athletic highlights, he said.

• The big sports story of the 1972 games was American swimmer Mark Spitz. He won seven gold medals and set seven world records. Spitz, who is Jewish, was flown out of Munich under heavy guard during the Black September attack. Canadian swimmers Bruce Robertson and Leslie Cliff won silver medals in the 100-metre butterfly and the 400-metre individual medley respectively.



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