Gold for Israel, 30 years on from Munich

August 13, 2002


1. Alex Averbukh becomes the first Israeli athlete to win gold at major international sporting event
2. Another victim of the Hebrew University attack dies
3. More Fatah terrorism
4. "Athletes, families join in memorial for victims of 1972 Olympics" (AP, Aug. 12, 2002)
5. "Epic day for Jackson and Averbukh" (Malaysia Star, Aug. 12, 2002)


[Note by Tom Gross]

Thirty years after Palestinian terrorists massacred Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics, pole-vaulter Alex Averbukh has become the first Israeli athlete to win a gold medal at a major international sporting event, the European Athletics Championships held this year in Munich. Averbukh's victory made the front page of all major Israeli newspapers, together with reports on the memorial service for the Olympic victims.

Averbukh's success was even reported in the media of countries usually hostile to Israel. (See, for example, story "Epic day for Jackson and Averbukh" from the Malaysia Star, below.)

At a ceremony commemorating the slain athletes, Ankie Schpitzer, the widow of fencing coach Andrei Schpitzer, one of the 11 victims, assailed the International Olympic Committee, which until today has refused to commemorate the Munich victims out of fears of an Arab boycott of the games. (See story attached below "Athletes, families join in memorial for victims of 1972 Olympics.")

Averbukh's success came on the evening that two more Israelis died as a result of Palestinian terror attacks.


Daphna Spruch, 61, became the eighth victim of the July 31 terror attack at Hebrew University, after she died as a result of injuries sustained in the bombing. It was noted at her funeral yesterday that Spruch, who worked as an information systems coordinator at the university, was a left-wing activist for the Women in Black organization and a frequent attendee at demonstrations calling for an "end to the occupation." Spruch is survived by three children, Asia, Adam, and Anna. Two people (of the 86 wounded in the Hebrew University attack) remain in critical condition.


Also on Saturday, Yafit Herenstein, 31, of Moshav Mechora in the Jordan Valley, was shot dead outside her home by Palestinian gunmen. Her husband Arno was also shot and injured while he attempted to rescue her. She is survived by her two young daughters, Shai and Hen. The military wing of Yasser Arafat's Fatah faction claimed responsibility for the attack.

-- Tom Gross



Athletes, families join in memorial for victims of 1972 Olympics
The Associated Press
August 12, 2002

Relatives and athletes joined in a memorial service Sunday for the 11 Israelis killed at the 1972 Munich Olympics, standing in a moment of silence, listening to songs and speeches, and promising not to forget.

Amid heavy security and in cool, drizzly weather, 25 relatives of the athletes who were killed were joined by the Israeli team in Munich for the European athletics championship, which ended yesterday.

The one-hour ceremony took place at the monument to the victims, a large stone tablet placed at the bridge linking the former Olympic village to the Olympic stadium. The victims' names are etched in the stone in German and Hebrew, with the solemn words: "In honor of their memory." An Israeli flag was draped across the tablet, with 11 candles burning and fresh wreaths laid at the foot of the monument.

It is the first time since the Munich Olympics that the village is being used by athletes, including the 17-member Israeli athletics team.

During the ceremony, police helicopters circled above, the main highway passing under the bridge was closed off in both directions, and police sharpshooters scanned the area from atop the bridge supports.

On September 5, 1972, Palestinian terrorists stormed an Olympic Village apartment house at the Munich Olympics, killing two Israeli athletes and holding the others hostage.

In a botched rescue attempt after a 20-hour standoff, nine more Israeli athletes were killed, as well as five terrorists and a German policeman.

The Israeli ambassador to Germany, Shimon Stein, said the Israelis were killed "in cold blood, with the knowledge of [current Palestinian Authority Chairman] Yasser Arafat."

In the rescue attempt at the Fuerstenfeldbruck airfield just outside Munich, the Israelis died in two helicopters after a shootout between the terrorist and police. Ankie Schpitzer, the widow of fencing coach Andrei Schpitzer, one of the 11 victims, said it was difficult for her to see the police helicopters providing security for the ceremony, because of the memories they brought back.

She criticized the rescue attempt as "incompetent and stupid." "We are here not to forget and not to forgive," said Schpitzer, who was at the 1972 games with her husband.

She also assailed the International Olympic Committee, which has refused to commemorate the victims out of fears of an Arab boycott of the games.

Michal Rot, the 20-year-old daughter of Esther Rot, an Israeli athlete in 1972 who escaped capture because female competitors were in a different building, performed a song she composed in memory of the tragedy.

Among the Israeli athletes attending the ceremony was Alex Averbukh, who on Saturday won the pole vault competition, giving Israel its first gold and the first medal of any kind at a major athletics meet.

"It was unbelievable," Nili Abramski, a 10,000-meter runner, said of her teammate.

"To think that he did it in the same stadium, it was the most amazing thing," Abramski said. "And to hear the Israeli national anthem in this stadium."

There was no investigation of the events until 1992, when files were smuggled from Germany to Israel. Since then, the city of Munich, the state of Bavaria and the German federal government have offered about $3 million to the families of the athletes, a belated and indirect admission of partial responsibility.



Epic day for Jackson and Averbukh
Malaysia Star
August 12, 2002

Colin Jackson and Alex Averbukh shared the spotlight on a day of history and emotion at the European athletics championships on Saturday.

Briton Jackson became the first athlete to win four consecutive European track titles with a stylish victory in the 110 metres hurdles final, while Averbukh handed Israel their first gold medal from a major championships in the city where 11 Israelis were killed during the 1972 Olympics.

The 35-year-old Jackson, eager to make up for his recent failure to win a third Commonwealth title in Manchester, clocked a winning time of 13.11 seconds for a place in the record books.

"It was very fortunate for me to come back and run very well after the disappointment of Manchester," said Jackson, who needed the fastest time by a European this season to shrug off a brave challenge from Stanislavs Olijars.

The Latvian remained in contention until the final hurdle before having to settle for silver in 13.22 seconds, while Poland's Artur Kohutek took the bronze in 13.32.

"I was very cool and calm," said world record holder Jackson, who plans to end a prolific career that also features two world titles after the world indoor championships next March in Birmingham.

The 27-year-old Averbukh, who won the men's pole vault final, fought back tears as the Israeli anthem resounded around the stadium built for the 1972 Games, during which his compatriots were murdered by Palestinian guerrillas.

"Of course I was thinking about what happened but it's better to think about the future," said the Russian-born Averbukh, who has been through hard times, losing his father, who was also his coach, last December.

All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.