Summer Olympics Through the Years: 1972
On Sept. 5, with six days left in the Games, eight Arab commandos slipped into the Olympic Village, killed two Israeli team members and seized nine others as hostages. Early the next morning, all nine were killed in a shootout between the terrorists and West German police at a military airport.
The tragedy stunned the world and stopped the XXth Olympiad in its tracks. But after suspending competition for 24 hours and holding a memorial service attended by 80,000 at the main stadium, 84-year-old outgoing IOC president Avery Brundage and his committee ordered “the Games must go on.”
They went on without 22-year-old swimmer Mark Spitz, who had set an Olympic gold medal record by winning four individual and three relay events, all in world record times. Spitz, an American Jew, was an inviting target for further terrorism and agreed with West German officials when they advised him to leave the country.
The pall that fell over Munich quieted an otherwise boisterous Games in which American swimmer Rick DeMont was stripped of a gold medal for taking asthma medication and track medalists Vince Matthews and Wayne Collett of the U.S. were banned for life for fooling around on the victory stand during the American national anthem.
The United States also lost an Olympic basketball game for the first time ever (they were 62-0) when the Soviets were given three chances to convert a last-second inbound pass and finally won, 51-50. The U.S. refused the silver medal.
Munich was also where 17-year-old Soviet gymnast Olga Korbut and 16-year-old swimmer Shane Gould of Australia won three gold medals each and Britain's 33-year-old Mary Peters won the pentathlon.