THE POLITICS OF SPORTS: THE OLYMPIC GAMES
"Olympic Tragedy: 1972 Revisited"
"The Soviets Still Can't Believe It"
"Blood in the Water"
"College Kids Perform Olympic Miracle"
The 1972 Munich Olympics (10 minutes)
Terms to Know
Pierre du Coubertin -Frenchman who organized the renewal of the
Olympic Games in 1894 which led to the first of the Modern Olympic Games held in
Athens in 1896
Black September - Terrorist organization created in 1970; responsible for killing Jewish athletes at 1972 Munich Olympic Games.
Avery Brundage - President, AOC; later, American representative on IOC; then, President, IOC
Ernest Jahncke - American representative on IOC, expelled for opposing idea of holding Olympic Games in Berlin
IOC - International Olympic Committee
AOC - American Olympic Committee; now known as the USOC.
AAU - Amateur Athletic Union
Helene Mayer - German fencer and Jew, Gold medalist in fencing in 1928 Olympics, who was allowed to compete by the Nazis in the 1936 Berlin Games, where she won a silver medal, but German press never acknowledge her religion
Gretel Bergman - German high jumper and Jew, European and German record holder, not allowed to compete in 1936 Berlin Games
Billy Fiske - two-time Gold medalist for the United States in bobsledding (1928, 1932) who refused to compete in 1936 Winter Games held at Garmish-Partenkirchen to protest Nazi actions against Jews. Killed in 1940 flying for the Royal Air Force (RAF) during Battle of Britain.
Mike Eruzione - Team Captain of 1980 USA ice hockey team, scored winning goal against Soviets in semi-final game.
Herb Brooks - Head Coach, USA ice hockey team, 1980 Winter Olympics.
Tommie Smith and John Carlos - American medalists in 200 meter dash, 1968 Olympics; protested American Civil Rights situation on victory podium. Mentored by Sociologist Professor Dr. Harry Edwards.
Sample Test Questions
What were the impacts of the various Olympic boycotts?
Are the Olympic Games a legitimate athletic competition, or are they merely another tool used by nation states to demonstrate national superiority?
Should the 1972 Munich Olympic Games continued in the aftermath of the Black September terrorist attack?
What was the impact of the American ice hockey victory over the Soviet Union at the 1980 Olympic Games?
The Modern Olympic Games
A The Olympic Movement is a 20th Century religion, a religion with universal appeal which incorporates all the basic values of other religions.@ B Avery Brundage
The International Olympic Committee was formed in 1894 with the intent of reinstating the spirit of the ancient Greek Olympic Games. Baron Pierre du Coubertin who led the effort hope to foster international communication and peace through the games, to kindle A a torch that will enlighten the world.@ The goal of the Olympic movement was to build a better, more peaceful world through sports practiced without discrimination and in the Olympic spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play.
I. The Nazi Olympics
Both the 1936 Winter and Summer Olympic Games were awarded to Germany in 1931, before Adolf Hitler came to power in January 1933. The winter games were given to the Alps resort town of Garmisch-Partenkircken, while the summer games were awarded to Berlin.
By 1933, there were questions about the appropriateness of holding the games in the Jew hating Nazi Germany. Surprising, the Nazis had decided to fund the Olympic Games far in excess of what other governments had done, in order to show the superiority of their regime. Talk of an American Olympic boycott was strong in 1935. In order to avoid a boycott, the IOC had extracted a promise from the Nazis to follow Olympic rules and allow German Jews who qualified for the competitions to be allowed to compete.
One legend of the Berlin Games never happened. Adolf Hitler did not refuse to shake the hand of the great American athlete, Jesse Owens. Hitler was informed by the IOC that he could not show favoritism towards German medal winners, so Hitler greeted them in private; thus he had no chance actually ignoring Owens.
The Olympics have had their share of boycotts, largely built around political grievances.
The first Olympic boycotts of the 1970s were conducted by nations from Africa who wished to protest the A apartheid@ policies of the Republic of South Africa. Other African boycotts protested the white minority government in Rhodesia, even though the Rhodesian Olympic Team had many black athletes.
In 1979, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan to insure a Communist government friendly to Moscow would be restored. President Jimmy Carter decided to boycott the Summer Games scheduled for Moscow in 1980 as one means of expressing American unhappiness with the overt violation of another nation= s sovereignty. The Soviets had invested a great deal to insure a successful Olympics in Moscow and demonstrate the superiority of the Communist system. The American decision not to attend hurt the success of the Games, and hurt the Soviets financially when NBC reduced their television coverage of the Games. American interest in the Olympics, without American participation was virtually nil. American athletes who had trained for years in hopes of going to the Olympics, found their dreams buried. In a cynical move, Carter did not announce the US boycott until after the completion of the 1980 Winter Olympic Games held in Lake Placid NY, knowing that the Soviets would not boycott those Games in hopes that the US would attend the Olympics in Moscow.
62 nations joined in the American boycott. The Arab world join the boycott to protest the invasion of a fellow Islamic nation. They were joined ironically by Israel. West Germany, Canada, and Japan also stayed away. Red China boycotted Moscow, but not in supporting the USA; they had their own quarrels with Moscow. Most of Europe, including Italy, France, and Great Britain attended as did most of Black Africa, who were mad because few nations had supported their 1976 boycott.
In 1984 the Soviet bloc repaid the US by boycotting the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles. The LA Olympic Organizing Committee was able to break a bit of the boycott by providing financial incentives to Rumania to attend the Games. The LA Games will always be remembered for its American flag waving and chants of A U-S-A, U-S-A!@ as American athletes won record numbers of medals in the absence of the Soviets and other high performing teams from East Germany, Czechoslovakia, and Poland.
In recent years, the IOC has managed to avoid boycotts though North Korea refused an opportunity to host several events of the 1988 Summer Games held in Seoul, South Korea. Further problems over Nationalist China= s participation have been avoided by referring to that team as Chinese Taipei.
III. The East German judges robbed us, again!
Many Olympic sports, most notably boxing, skating and gymnastics, use judges and scoring systems to evaluate the competition. Since these are subjective grades, much protest and outrage have been heard over judging. The IOC rotates multiple judges in these sports, and all nations seem to have an interest in scoring fairly, if for no other reason than to protect their own athletes from reprisals.
The target of grading scorn frequently were the judges from East Germany. To many Americans, if judging was fixed, you could count of the East Germans to be leading the way. Somehow, even the Soviet judges were considered more reliable than the East Germans. In addition to bad judges, East German athletes were long suspected of using performance enhancing drugs. (In the demise of the Iron Curtain, STASI - East German Secret Police - files documented the widespread use of pharmaceuticals by East German athletes, and former GDR coaches can now be found coaching athletes from Red China, thus bringing on new cries of illegal drug usage).
The complaints about judging fell along Cold War lines. Judges from Communist countries over-graded Communist athletes while they short changed American competitors, and vice versa. So much for the spirit of the Olympic Games. Instead of promoting peace, the Games were about promoting a system.
The most egregious judgment in the Olympics game came, ironically, not from a prejudiced judge in skating or gymnastics, but in a basketball game in 1972 at Munich.
A second notable judgment came not from a Cold War vote, but a hometown home cooking ruling in boxing. American Roy Jones Jr. had destroyed his opponents on his way to the finals in the middleweight class in the 1988 Seoul Games.
In the aftermath of the fall of the Iron Curtain, it was hoped that these complaints would die out. But that hope flew out the window at the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics when investigation over the silver medals awarded to the Canadian pairs figure skaters (Jamie Sale and david Pelletier) proved that the French judge had been coerced to grade the Soviet pair ahead of the Canadian team, in return for a Soviet promise to give high scores to the French ice dancing pairs team. Judges were tossed out of the Games and a second gold medal for the event was awarded to the Canadian team.
IV. Other political statements.
In 1968 there were calls for American black athletes to boycott the Olympic Games to protest the civil rights situation in the USA. Very few black athletes, who had worked their entire lives to seek fame in competition were willing to boycott what might be their only shot at Olympic success. One man who found a way to sit out the games was UCLA basketball player Lew Alcindor (later known as Kareem Abdul Jabbar). (The USA basketball team, seemingly an underdog without Alcindor, bashed their way to an easy gold medal thanks to an unlikely find, 19 year old Spencer Haywood.)
The boycott= s biggest booster was Dr. Harry Edwards, a Sociology professor at San Jose State. Two athletes who fell under his sway were track sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos, who had trained at SJSU. When they mounted the medal stand, they came wearing black socks without shoes, and each raised a hand wearing a black glove in a black power salute during the playing of the American national anthem. The USOC tossed them out of the Games immediately after the ceremony. Little was accomplished in the way of civil rights, and the only impact was the embarrassment of every American athlete at the Games. Probably the most memorable action taken by an American black athlete at the 1968 was the flag waving of boxer George Foreman when he won a gold medal. In 1972, fears arose again of protest actions by American black athletes, but these fears went unfounded.
V. AThe Games must go on.@
In 1970, Jordanian military forces, supported by Israeli military intelligence, were unleashed against militant Palestinian militia who threatened the rule of King Hussein. Palestinian militia were virtually destroyed.
A secret terrorist organization was created in the aftermath of the military operation. These terrorists called themselves Black September, in honor of the month the attack took place. They secretly decided to conduct a terrorist attack against the 1972 Munich Olympic Village, and targeted Israeli athletes.
Early on the morning of September 5, eight Palestinian terrorists, including two who had jobs in the Olympic Village, made their way to the Israeli quarters. Two Israelis were killed in the attack, but their efforts gave time to several other Israeli athletes to escape. Nine Israelis were held hostage, and the terrorists demanded the release of two of West Germany= s most violent terrorists, Andreas Baader and Ulrike Meinhof (of the infamous and notorious Baader-Meinhof Gang). Negotiations continued on through the day, and in the evening the Palestinians were allowed to take their hostages to Furstenfeldbruck airfield, expecting to be flown to a safe haven in the Arab world. Instead, German police opened an assault, but they had underestimated the number of terrorists and did not have sufficient sharpshooters. When the shooting finally ended, five terrorists and all eight hostages were dead.
The Games= events were not cancelled until after 3 p.m. that day, and the next day a memorial service was planned. The IOC executive board voted to keep the Games going. The memorial service was boycotted by the Arab nations and the Soviet Union. At the service IOC President Avery Brundage promised that the AGames must go on.@ 80,000 people cheered. While Israel and others were satisfied that the games continued, in keeping with the spirit of the games, Red Smith of the New York Times echoed the sentiments of others, writing, AThe occasion was yesterday= s memorial service for eleven members of Israel= s Olympic delegation murdered by Palestinian terrorist. It was more like a pep rally.@
VI. U-S-A-! U-S-A!
Since the arrival of the Soviet Union into the Olympic movement at the 1952 Helsinki Summer Games, the Cold War rivalry between the USA and the USSR had become part of the Olympic atmosphere. The Games became another means by which either the Communist world or the Free World could demonstrate the superiority of their system. Every medal won by the Soviets or their client states raised questions about whether the state supported athletic system in the Soviet Union met the standards of required Olympic amateurism.
Over the course of the Games, the Soviets established themselves as the team to be in several sports. Just as the USA does well in track and field and in swimming, the Soviets did well in weightlifting, shooting, and in gymnastics. One sport over which the Soviets gained ownership was ice hockey, at the expense of Canada which has long considered the game as rightfully theirs. In the 1972 hockey match-up against the Team Canada NHL all stars, the Soviets Olympians had more than held their own. The USA had surprisingly won a gold medal in the 1960 Squaw Valley Winter Olympics, and had earned several other medals in ice hockey, but by 1980, the Soviets were the premiere hockey team in the world, and were a sure bet for gold at the Lake Placid Games.
The USA put together a hockey team in 1979 which consisted of college players and was coached by Herb Brooks. It played together for a year in preparation for the Olympics, and was much improved, but a few days before the start of the games, they had been bombed in a match against the Soviet Olympians. The American team was good and might have a shot at a medal, but gold was out of the question. When their first Olympic match had ended in a tie, hopes for any medal seemed distant. But the team started to pull together largely under the leadership of their captain, Mike Eruzione, and the team qualified for the medal round. Four teams made the medal round, including the heavily favored Soviets.
In a stunning upset, arguably the biggest upset in any sport in any year, a goal by Eruzione in the third period held up and the USA defeated the Soviets 4-3.
"Do You Believe In Miracles? YES!" – ABC announcer Al Michaels, counting down the final seconds of the USA victory over the Soviets, a call which made Michaels’ broadcasting career.
Guttmann, Allen. The Olympics: A History of the Modern Games. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1992.
Guttmann, Allen. The Games Must Go On: Avery Brundage and the Olympic Movement. New York: Columbia University Press, 1984.
Coffey, Wayne. The Boys of Winter. Crown Publishing, 2005.
Reeve, Simon. One Day in September: The Story of the 1972 Munich Olympics Massacre. 1999.
Cohn, Arthur, and McDonald, Kevin. One Day in September. Won 2000 Oscar for Best Documentary Feature. Available on DVD. 1999.
O’Connor, Gavin. Miracle. Available on DVD. 2004.