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

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Stik on the crane as he completed the mural
art
News
Happy in his hat: Pharrell Williams
people
Arts and Entertainment
Stella Gibson is getting closer to catching her killer
tvReview: It's gripping edge-of-the-seat drama, so a curveball can be forgiven at such a late stage
News
i100(More than you think)
News
Phyllis Dorothy James on stage during a reading of her book 'Death Comes to Pemberley' last year
peopleJohn Walsh pays tribute to PD James, who died today
News
peopleExclusive: Maryum and Hana Ali share their stories of the family man behind the boxing gloves
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

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising

In pictures: There's a Good Girl exhibition

The new exhibition reveals how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit
Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

It's no surprise that the building game born in Sweden in 2009 and now played by millions, has imitators keen to construct their own mega money-spinner
The King's School is way ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology

Staying connected: The King's School

The school in Cambridgeshire is ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology. Richard Garner discovers how teachers and pupils stay connected