Memory Games

While an Olympic competition sometimes takes just minutes, the afterglow can last a lifetime.
July 27, 2008
Interviews by Christina Breda Antoniades | 2008 Photos by Keith Barraclough | Audio by Whitney Shefte | Q&A, Monday

Lacey O'Neal, 64

Washington
Semifinalist, 80-meter hurdles, 1964 (Tokyo); semifinalist, 100-meter hurdles, 1972 (Munich).


IN MUNICH, THEY HAD A DISCO AREA IN THE OLYMPIC VILLAGE. I had a friendly rival, Esther [Shachamarov], an Israeli athlete. We were both hurdlers, and our times almost matched. One night, I came into [the entrance to the disco area], and Esther and her coach were sitting there. I had a TWA -- a teeny-weeny afro -- but I wore a wig, a big old bush, when I wanted to dress up. Esther and her coach were laughing; they'd never seen me with all this hair. I took [the wig] off and put it on her coach.

The next day when I woke up, I could feel something in the air. It was solemn. People weren't moving around. There was a helicopter hovering. I went to breakfast and started hearing rumors. But it wasn't until later in the day when all the athletes from the United States were called together and told that 200 meters away from my dorm, members of the Israeli men's team had been taken hostage. The police were getting all the Israeli and Jewish athletes out of the village for their safety.

In the Olympic Village, there so many tears and so many emotions: We were indignant; we were accusatory; we were insulted. These were intruders. How could they bring this political thing to the Olympics?

The next day was the semifinals for the hurdles. Esther's lane was right next to mine, and it was empty. I didn't know what had happened to her. Warming up, I had tears in my eyes. But, as an athlete, you're supposed to put everything else behind you. I ended up running one of my best times.

Afterwards, I found out that Esther's coach was one of the people who was killed. I think I broke down right there in the village. Normally, athletes are allowed to stay and watch other events after they're done, but we were encouraged to leave, for safety's sake. I went home one or two days after my event.

When I look back on it, I say: "Why did it have to be that way?

Why did these athletes have to be killed for a political cause that they had nothing to do with?" And all the Jewish people who did not have a chance to compete. No one had ever penetrated the Olympic Village before and harmed athletes. It was tragic.

Fast Forward

Eleven Israelis were taken hostage and killed by Palestinian terrorists at the 1972 Games. O'Neal now runs her own company, Juffure Enterprises International, which markets African crafts. Esther Roth-Shachamarov made it to the next Olympics in Montreal in 1976 and placed sixth in the 100-meter hurdles.

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PHOTOS: Current Photography by Keith Barraclough, 1971 Photograph by Richard Darcey; AUDIO: Whitney Shefte WEB EDITOR: Amanda McGrath - washingtonpost.com

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