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A gunman wears a hood over his face as he surveys the building where Palestinian militants held Israeli athletes hostage at the Munich Olympic Village on Sept. 5, 1972. The 20-hour standoff ended in a botched rescue effort at the airport. (KURT STRUMPF/Associated Press)
A gunman wears a hood over his face as he surveys the building where Palestinian militants held Israeli athletes hostage at the Munich Olympic Village on Sept. 5, 1972. The 20-hour standoff ended in a botched rescue effort at the airport. (KURT STRUMPF/Associated Press)

Spectre of Munich still haunts Olympians 40 years later Add to ...

“They’re all gone,” relayed ABC commentator Jim McKay.

The mood in Munich, Mr. Millar said, was, “We’re not going to allow the spirit of the Olympics to be compromised or ruined. The Olympics must go on.” The Games resumed after a day’s postponement and a memorial service.

“Looking back [to that chance meeting with the terrorists at the fence], the only thing we could have gone was gotten shot,” Mr. MacDonald said. “This thing was coming off no matter what.”

As for Mr. Millar, he is hoping to travel into London and march in the 2012 opening ceremonies but may not due to time restraints. Either way, the memory of how his first Olympics began, with the Munich massacre, is one that will never fade, even after 40 years.

“The Olympics have been a microcosm of life itself – the highs and lows. It’s all about the journey,” Mr. Millar said. “Nothing is sure.”

HOCKEY FANS, NOT TERRORISTS

Pierre Plouffe had placed fifth in water skiing, a demonstration sport in Munich, and decided to wind up his Olympic experience living in the athletes’ village and watch some history unfold, such as Mark Spitz winning his seventh gold medal.

“I was there for his final race,” recalled Mr. Plouffe, now 62. “I thought that was the most memorable thing I’d take away from the Games.”

One night, he and several other athletes walked outside the village to the CBC tower where they watched a broadcast of Canada taking on the USSR in the second game of the Summit Series. As they strolled back around 3 a.m., they decided to hop the village fence rather than walk around to the main gates. They heard bangs but didn’t realize they were gunshots.

When word of the hostage-taking started making the rounds, it was soon followed by suspicion surrounding a group of men who were spotted jumping the fence in the wee hours of the morning. “They were looking for these terrorists who’d hopped the fence, but that was us. We were hockey fans, not terrorists,” Mr. Plouffe said.

The Canadian accommodations were located directly across from those of the Israeli athletes. For much of the next day, Mr. Plouffe and the Canadians watched the horrific scene play out live. “We could look right inside the Israeli building and see what was going on. We could see this guy in a white track suit walking on the roof of the buliding. At one point, one of us in the Canadian living room tried to take a picture of the whole scene. One of the Black September guys wheeled around and pointed a rifle or shotgun right at us. They didn’t want any pictures. Needless to say, no flash bulb went off.”

Later that night, Mr. Plouffe recalls seeing the hostages coming out of the building and loading into a bus. “They knew they were going to die,” he said. “They were screaming and crying. We were just a few hundred feet away. They didn’t evacuate us for some reason. The only athlete I remember them evacuating was Mark Spitz because he was Jewish.”

After the tragedy, the whole country was in mourning. “All the Germans walked with their heads down,” Mr. Plouffe said. “They realized they had screwed it up in ’36 when Hitler was in power and now this was even worse.”

OLYMPIC DREAM DESTROYED

For Karen James, it had been a celebratory night, her swimming at the Games concluded, and a late-night show of hockey. She went to sleep in a women’s dorm, farther away from the building where the Israelis were, and didn’t hear the gunfire.

Waking the next morning and crossing the village, she was hustled into a building near the hostage taking. She could see the hostage negotiations, and watched the athletes led to the bus. She was just 19, and Jewish. Ms. James attended the memorial service and then left the country, before the Games were done, and buried the memories for decades. She was angry, and the Olympic dream was destroyed. “It died for me.”

Years later, she began speaking of her experience, mostly to Jewish groups. In February, 2010, she ran with the Olympic torch in Vancouver, which helped draw her back to the sporting event of her youth.

But the IOC’s refusal to hold a minute of silence to honour the murdered athletes tears at Ms. James. “Their intransigence, their refusal, really colours how I feel about the Olympics, even just watching them,” she said. “It coloured it for me yet again. The minute of silence would have been part of healing for the many, many people who were there.”

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