Despite the record number of
nations (121) and competitors (7,173) that participated in the Summer Olympics
in Munich in 1972, and the handful of stunning athletic performances the Games
played host to, the most memorable moments of the 20th Olympiad took place off
On September 5, a Palestinian terrorist attack on Israeli athletes in the
Olympic Village ultimately left 17 dead and put the Games on hold for 34 hours.
Rather than give in to the fear the terrorists had inspired, however, the
International Olympic Committee, voted to resume the Games with the blessing of
the Israeli government.
Perhaps the most impressive athletic display of the 20th Olympiad was put on
by U.S. swimmer Mark Spitz. Before the terrorist attack took the media's
attention away from him, Spitz had been making a splash in newspapers across the
world by setting seven world records and winning seven gold medals, a record
itself, in only eight days.
Rivaling Spitz in newspaper headlines from the Games was gymnast Olga Korbut
of the U.S.S.R. Following a nearly flawless routine on the uneven bars that
helped propel her team to victory, the 17-year-old Belarussian stumbled in the
individual competition with errors on the uneven bars that caused her to fall to
seventh place in the standings. Determined to improve, Korbut reclaimed her
stride the next day winning both the balance beam and floor events, and taking
second in the uneven bars.
The Munich Games were also the site of the first U.S. men's basketball loss
in Olympic history. In a disputed contest against the U.S.S.R., the Soviets
edged the Americans by a single point scored in the game's final three seconds.
The Soviets topped the Americans by a slim margin in the Games' total medal
count as well, 99-94.