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Munich 2002 - 30 year-old memories that are just a javelin throw away

Munich 200230 yearold memories that are just a javelin throw away
Doug Gillon for the IAAF
7 August 2002 - The well-fed Bavarian burghers went about their business, but save for a few construction workers, infamous Connollystrasse was virtually deserted when championship athletics returned to Munich yesterday for the first time since the 1972 Olympic Games.

The German city has subsequently staged European Cup and Grand Prix finals, but no further major championship, so, inevitably, the opening session of the 18th European Championships in the Olympiastadion reignited chilling recollections of September 5, 1972, and the massacre by the Black September group. It was the day when 11 Israeli team members died, and with them the age of sporting innocence.

Israel is back here with a team of 17, competing in Munich as a nation for the first time since. They are staying in the same athletes' village used in 1972, though not in the same house. Their team is sharing a building with Great Britain and Germany. Helicopters are aloft. The 1.5-metre high fence is topped with wire, and armed police, dogs, and military patrols are in evidence, but unobtrusive. All baggage is scanned.

They are less than a javelin throw from Connollystrasse, named after Hal Connolly, the US Olympic hammer champion. Work is going on outside No.31 where the Israelis were taken hostage, and the commemorative stone has been temporarily removed. Survivors and relatives have visited the scene of the attack yesterday, and the memorial to their memory. Flowers have been laid and candles lit.

"Each of the team has made personal independent visits to the house ," said the Israeli team leader, Jack Cohen.

Their national athletics governing body has invited Ester Roth, one of the survivors of the massacre, to attend a service on Sunday, but yesterday she visited the memorial to the dead, some 300m from the Olympiastadion. Roth was accompanied by her daughter, Michal, and Shoshana Shapira, widow of Amitzot Shapira, her coach, who died in the attack.

"There were a lot of emotions," said Roth, "but I think it will be more when I go into the stadium and remember my coach taking me there, even though it's 30 years ago."

The 1972 Games, she said, were initially a joyous occasion, even though one of her colleagues, race walker Shaul Ladany, was the subject of high-profile publicity. He had returned to Germany for the first time since having been released from Bergen-Belsen concentration camp as a child, at the end of World War II.

"I remember everything about all this," added Roth. "It was like a dream to be here. It was my first Olympics. We were so very happy."

Female competitors were segregated then, so she was in a house some 200m away when the Palestinians struck the men's quarters. Wakened by the shouts of colleagues, many of the Israeli men won the race for their lives.

Ladany escaped by leapin.g from a balcony. Aged 66 he still competes in endurance walking, still holds Israeli records including the mark for the 50km – 4:17:07 set on 2 July 1972.

Ester Roth had reached the semi-finals of the 100m hurdles, but never raced in them. The terrorists attacked before she could do so. Afterwards the whole team went home.

Four years later she made her own statement of triumph over evil when she finished sixth in the Montreal Olympic final in 13.04.

There is intensified security now for the team, confirms Cohen. "It is OK. They are doing their job, but I don't want to go into security details. Security is but unfortunately it was not like that in the past. The current climate is helping this. Security was not so intense in Edmonton, Sydney or Budapest, but we want to compete with other countries in the spirit of sport which was stopped 30 years ago, and to show that terrorism cannot win."

There was a surreal moment in the stadium as 'The Israelites' by Desmond Dekker and The Aces blasted from the sound system shortly after the elimination of the first Israeli in action. Alex Porkhomovskiy who competed for Russia in three world championships, and won European 100m bronze for them in 1994. Since then he has switched allegiance to Israel, and has competed in two world championships for his new country. This was his European debut.

An Israeli, Nili Avramski, was first to be lapped last night as Paula Radcliffe went in search of a memorable 10,000m victory, and the second fastest time ever: 30mins 01.09sec. Avramski should not feel bad about this. The British woman lapped everyone in the field except Sonia

O'Sullivan, as she finished in a time which surpassed the Olympic gold medal performances of Paavo Nurmi. She would have won every Olympic final until Emil Zatopek in 1948. Israel will have other chances to shine here, with possible finalists in pole vaulter Alex Averbukh and hurdler Irina Lenskiy. In Israel, as in athletics and in life, there is always hope.