David Hemery remembers Munich 1972

'It was a quiet morning ... until I turned on the TV'

Munich in 1972 was the first time terrorism hit the Olympics. As a British athlete there, it was shocking that these extremist activities were happening virtually outside the door.

The first I knew that anything was wrong was when I switched on the television in the village dormitory on the morning of 5 September. A couple of days before I'd won bronze in the 400m hurdles. I still had the 4x400m relay to come. It was a quiet morning until I turned on the TV.

There were live pictures of a hostage situation, from a block away. I don't recall where the feed came from, maybe the BBC. But this was happening about 100 metres away, with one accommodation block between ours and where it was unfolding.

My recollection is that the immediate vicinity was cordoned off but we could come and go, although I don't remember leaving the dorm that day. Security had been minimal, deliberately so. The Germans wanted a relaxed atmosphere to take a step away from their militaristic past.

We found out what was happening from the television, then confirmed it by looking out the window. That night on TV, we watched the helicopters taking the terrorists and hostages to the airport. And outside the window, there they were.

We only discovered the full story in the next day or so, that two Israelis had been killed at the scene, and that the German rescue plan went wrong at the airport and the others were killed. The Germans were devastated because it was Israelis who were the victims. They'd wanted the Games to demonstrate the new inclusiveness of modern Germany, with the past in the past.

As I recall, nobody asked for our views as athletes about whether the Games should go on. We talked informally amongst ourselves. The mood in the camp was sombre and we spoke of little else.

My view was that if you stopped the Games, then you lost what was intrinsically good: the bringing together of the world's youth through sport. You'd have a double negative; the negative of terrorism compounded by the negative of it achieving its aim. That was my view.

I don't know if there was a discussion by British officials about whether we should go home but I assume there was, and they told us quite soon afterwards we'd be staying.

There was a memorial service in the Olympic Stadium on 6 September with over 80,000 spectators and a few thousand of the athletes, by no means all of them. I didn't go, and looking back on it today, I can't believe I didn't go. Why would I not? I don't know why I didn't.

It's not that I didn't honour those killed or feel sorrow for the situation because I did. But nobody told us what to do, I suppose we needed to maintain our focus. You don't want to let your team-mates down. You want to know that there is a way for life to go on. We went on to win silver in the 4x400m relay. It didn't feel like an anti-climax. It is why we were there. For sport.

As told to Nick Harris

Voices
Mosul dam was retaken with the help of the US
voicesRobert Fisk: Barack Obama is following the jihadists’ script
Arts and Entertainment
Loaded weapon: drugs have surprise side effects for Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’
filmReview: Lucy, Luc Besson's complex thriller
News
peoplePamela Anderson rejects ice bucket challenge because of ALS experiments on animals
Arts and Entertainment
tvExecutive says content is not 'without any purpose'
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
News
A cleaner prepares the red carpet for the opening night during the 59th International Cannes Film Festival May 17, 2006 in Cannes, France.
newsPowerful vacuum cleaners to be banned under EU regulations
Sport
sportLeague Managers' Association had described Malky Mackay texts as 'friendly banter'
News
A polar bear’s diet is rich in seal blubber and half of its own body weight is composed of fat
i100
News
peopleCareer spanned 70 years, including work with Holocaust survivors
News
people
Travel
Flocking round: Beyoncé, Madame Tussauds' latest waxwork, looking fierce in the park
travelIn a digital age when we have more access than ever to the stars, why are waxworks still pulling in crowds?
News
London is the most expensive city in Europe for cultural activities such as ballet
arts
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson has rejected criticisms of his language, according to BBC director of television Danny Cohen
tv
Extras
indybest
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape