Munich 1972: Tragedy, Terror, and Triumph at the #OlympicGames by David Clay Large

The Munich Olympic games are history for me. I was born four months after they were completed, but their images loomed large for me as I watched every Olympics from 1976 on. Usually, when anyone talks about the 1972 Olympics in Munich, they focus on the abduction and assassination of the Israeli athletes. The word terrorism became commonplace after these games. But the Munich games were so much more than the terrorist attack. As the Tokyo Olympic games continue, I thought I’d look back at several other Olympic Games. Munich 1972: Tragedy, Terror and Triumph at the Olympic Games (Amazon) delves into the entire games: how they came about, the stand outs in the sports field, and of course, the attack by Palestinian terrorists.

“Set against the backdrop of the turbulent late 1960s and early 1970s, this compelling book provides the first comprehensive history of the 1972 Munich Olympic Games, notorious for the abduction of Israeli Olympians by Palestinian terrorists and the hostages tragic deaths after a botched rescue mission by the German police. Drawing on a wealth of newly available sources from the time, eminent historian David Clay Large explores the 1972 festival in all its ramifications. He interweaves the political drama surrounding the Games with the athletic spectacle in the arena of play, itself hardly free of controversy. Writing with flair and an eye for telling detail, Large brings to life the stories of the indelible characters who epitomized the Games. Key figures range from the city itself, the visionaries who brought the Games to Munich against all odds, and of course to the athletes themselves, obscure and famous alike. With the Olympic movement in constant danger of terrorist disruption, and with the fortieth anniversary of the 1972 tragedy upon us in 2012, the Munich story is more timely than ever.”

As I said, if you’re looking specifically to read a detailed discussion of the terrorist attacks at the Munich games, this book isn’t it. Rather, it’s a history of how Germany fought hard to host another Olympics, following Hitler’s 1936 Olympics. Many thought it was too soon for Germany to be a host country for the games of peace. Much time is spent detailing the politics and machinations of bringing the games back to Germany after 36 years.

Then, quite a bit of time is spent explaining how the city of Munich and surrounding communities prepared for the games with the building of the sports complexes and Olympic athletes’ villages. The Germans were so afraid of appearing in any way Nazi-like that serious security lapses happened including not having enough boots on the ground, which made the terrorist attack all that much easier to execute, and an insistence on pastel colors so nothing appeared too militaristic,

Two chapters detail the terrorist attacks, including the history of the fighting between the Israelis and Palestinians and a rundown of the events that happened, but overall, the chapters seem a bit rushed. I feel more could have gone into the kidnapping and killing of the Israeli athletes, but I also get the fact what Large was trying to do with the book in presenting them as a whole. The fact that IOC president Avery Brundage insisted the games continue is astounding, yet from everything I’ve read about Brundage, dating back to the 1936 Olympics, has not been positive.

Then, of course, are the stars of the 1972 games, the egotistical American swimmer Mark Spitz, and the Soviet gymnast Olga Korbet, who made gymnastics a dominant sports-watching event ever-after. In fact, Large makes the case that the 1972 Olympics in Munich were what made the sporting event must-see TV, the most important of the modern Olympics. The Olympics ever since Munich have been plagued with cost overruns and many cities deciding they simply can not afford the costs of hosting an Olympic games.

Overall, a good book looking into the history of the 1972 Olympics. However, there were times when Large glossed over certain events simply because he didn’t care for them and said so. If you’re going to be a historian of some measure, you set your prejudices at the door.

This is the 50th Audiobook I’ve listened to as part of my 2021 Audiobook Challenge. This challenge is complete!

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