Paul Hockenos: How Munich Forever Changed the Olympics





Paul Hockenos, a writer based in Berlin, is the author of Free to Hate: The Rise of the Right in Post-Communist Eastern Europe.

The XX Olympics in Munich in 1972 — not those of ancient Greece or the first modern Olympic Games — are the rightful parentage of today’s Olympics. It was in Munich at the height of the cold war that Palestinian terrorists shocked the world by storming the Olympic Village and murdering 11 Israeli athletes in cold blood. The images of the hooded gunmen prowling the dorm’s walkways are seared in the memories of anyone old enough to have absorbed the round-the-clock TV coverage. The legacy of this horrific tragedy has informed every Olympic Games since and still contributes to the security mania and spending orgy that makes the modern Olympics what they are.
 
One of the many black ironies of the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich was that it was meant to have the opposite impact, and indeed it might have had reality not intervened.
 
The very purpose of Munich’s bid to host the Games was to show off to the world how much Germany had changed since the war’s end. Munich was meant to be the antidote to the 1936 “Nazi” Olympics in Berlin, when the Reich’s capital was awash in swastikas and Adolf Hitler prominent in front-row seating. Prosperous, liberal West Germany wanted desperately to flout its fair postwar incarnation...


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