Shirley Povich wrote about sports for The Washington Post for 75 years, until the day he died at 92--June 4, 1998. With the 20th century drawing to a close, a review of Povich's columns from the past seven decades provides a picture of the people and events that dominated the century of sports in America. With great pleasure, we'll present some of these columns, continuing today with Povich's column of Sept. 8, 1972, three days after 11 Israeli Olympic athletes were slain following a terrorist attack on their living quarters at the Summer Games in Munich.
At Munich's Riem Airport, 10 coffins were lifted on to an El Al plane bound this morning for Jerusalem.
At a nearby military air base, on orders from the White House, a U.S. Air Force Starlifter was being readied to fly the body of the 11th dead Israeli Olympic team member to his parents' home in Cleveland.
These were the 11 killed in the sneak attack of Arab terrorists on the Israeli Olympic compound. The body of the first murdered Israeli was kicked out into the street to show the Arabs meant business. The second died of wounds a bit later. The other nine Israelis were bound hand-and-foot and terrorized at gunpoint for 23 hours until they were slaughtered wholesale by the Arabs' machine-gun and grenade attack in a botched getaway attempted by helicopter.
But that was Tuesday. That happened two days ago, so what else is new?
The 80,000 who always show up at the big Olympic Stadium for the track-and-field events made it again today. Big day in track and field, you know. The men's 400-meter and high-hurdles finals. Also the shot-put and hammer-throw finals. The 80,000 began making their way in at just about the same hour the planes were lifting off with the stilled Olympians of Israel.
At Olympic Stadium, on somebody's orders, all flags of the 123 nations that had been at half-mast, went up to the tops of their poles. Only the still-lowered Olympic flag on the stadium floor suggested there had been horror, and the death of nearly a dozen of their fellows.
The Olympic Village smelled of quiet today but it was not any pall of sentimental concern. The streets were emptier because hundreds of the athletes already had bugged out, either because they had finished their events or were homesick, and hundreds of officials with no more to do were making for the planes.
Down on Connolly Strasse, in front of Building 31, where bullet holes were showing in the walls, five wreaths lay. Later in the day, the United States team's offering made it six of the 123 nations who remembered their Israeli comrades with floral tributes. On holiday was all that chest-thumping about brotherhood in the Olympic Village.
For three of the Arab nations, including Egypt, it must have been getting uncomfortable. They pulled out. There was a big swarm at the flight-booking offices in the Village. And if the crowd in the stadium appeared to be subdued at the outset of the program in the decathlon events, the old, on-their-feet excitement returned at the close finishes in the 5,000-meter trials. And then came the hurdles and the 400-meter dash that unloosed the full-throated roars of the 80,000.
The chap that Air Force plane was taking back to Cleveland was David Berger, who lived in Shaker Heights, went to Tulane, got his master's degree at Columbia and decided in 1970 to live in Israel under dual U.S.-Israel citizenship. He was a weight lifter. He survived the Arabs' initial attack, but got it at the airport shoot-out.
The Israelis won't keep the date they had with the Munich Jewish community leaders tonight. Still taped to the door at Building 31 is a blanket invitation from Werner Nachman to join Munich's Jews in a pre-Rosh Hashanah feast in the city. And they won't be holding Jewish New Year's services they planned for the Olympic Village starting Friday at sundown.
Around the Olympic complex, the Germans have given up their aim that all was to be joy, and comradeship, and non-military at their Olympics. Now the polizei were out in the open, in full uniform instead of in plain clothes, and they were wearing the side arms that were verboten before Tuesday's shooting.
These Olympics were Germany's bid to rejoin the family of nations, to expunge the memory of the swastikas and the goose-steps and the "achtungs" of the Nazi gangs. And until the Arabs' shots rang out the Germans were well pleased with their effort.
Today, though, the uniformed police were out in force. Wearing patches that showed they came from as far away as Frankfurt, a couple of hundred miles north of Munich, they were patrolling in no-nonsense style with guns showing. Germany's Olympics has changed, all on account of what happened at 4:30 in Tuesday's dawn when the Olympic Village heard that macabre, Arab-style wake-up call.
CAPTION: Arab terrorist peers out from balcony after raiding Israeli team headquarters at 1972 Olympic Games in Munich.