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

Stephanie first after her public appearance as a woman at Rad Fest 2014

Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol
art'Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' followed hoax reports artist had been arrested and unveiled
Oscar Pistorius is led out of court in Pretoria. Pistorius received a five-year prison sentence for culpable homicide by judge Thokozile Masipais for the killing of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp
voicesThokozile Masipa simply had no choice but to jail the athlete
Life and Style

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Russell Brand at an anti-austerity march in June
peopleActor and comedian says 'there's no point doing it if you're not'
Arts and Entertainment
Sister Cristina Scuccia sings 'Like a Virgin' in Venice

Like Madonna, Sister Cristina Scuccia's video is also set in Venice

Arts and Entertainment
James Blunt's debut album Back to Bedlam shot him to fame in 2004

Singer says the track was 'force-fed down people's throats'

Life and Style
The Tinder app has around 10 million users worldwide

techThe original free dating app will remain the same, developers say


Endangered species spotted in a creek in the Qinling mountains

Bryan Cranston as Walter White, in the acclaimed series 'Breaking Bad'
peopleJust weeks after he created dress for Alamuddin-Clooney wedding
Life and Style
A street vendor in Mexico City sells Dorilocos, which are topped with carrot, jimaca, cucumber, peanuts, pork rinds, spices and hot sauce
food + drink

Trend which requires crisps, a fork and a strong stomach is sweeping Mexico's streets

Life and Style

Some experiencing postnatal depression don't realise there is a problem. What can be done?

Arts and Entertainment
Gotham is coming to UK shores this autumn
tvGotham, episode 2, review
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album