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Olympics massacre destroyed a myth

There once was a time when we believed the best about the Olympics, whenthe notion of achieving peace and brotherhood through athletic competition,though quaint and naive on its face, was the guiding spirit behind why wewatched the quadrennial global festival of sports.

But despite the best efforts of some to wave it away, the smell of politicsalways wafted through the Olympics, from the 1936 Summer Games when AdolfHitler paraded his views of Aryan supremacy across the world stage, to MexicoCity in 1968, when sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their glovedfists.

"One Day in September" recounts the moment 28 years ago when the curtainbetween Olympic myth and reality was blown away completely, and where, as ABCsportscaster Jim McKay said, "Our worst fears have been realized." Analternately touching and harrowing documentary, "One Day" recounts the attackduring the 1972 Summer Games in Munich, where 11 Israeli athletes and coacheswere killed. (The film, which took 2 1/2 years to complete, previously had alimited theatrical release and won a richly deserved Oscar this year for bestdocumentary film.)

The 90-minute film moves between a narrative of Sept. 5, 1972 - the dayeight Palestinian terrorists entered the Olympic Village, captured a group ofIsraeli weightlifters and fencers and held them for more than 24 hours - andthe aftermath.

Producer Arthur Cohn and director Kevin Macdonald brilliantly combineoriginal interviews with German and Israeli officials and the families of thehostages.

Interviews with the son and daughter of two of the athletes who were killedand with Ankie Spitzer, who had been married to a fencing coach for only 15months when the incident took place, give the film its emotional underpinning,but are never exploited. In one moment, Spitzer recalls her fear when herhusband, Andre, a Jew, walked up to greet a group of athletes from Lebanon, anation at war with Israel at that time.

"He said, `Ankie, that's exactly what the Olympics are all about. I can goto them. I can talk to them,'" said Spitzer.

In addition, Macdonald and Cohn blend archival photos and footage from1972, including ABC's coverage with McKay, whose understated but poignant"They're all gone" statement after the hostages had been killed made him arevered television figure.

The film, narrated evenly by Michael Douglas, raises a number of troublingquestions, including:

Why was security so lax around the village?

Why was the German government unable to formulate an effective plan torescue the hostages?

Why were the Germans slow to allow the Israelis to get involved in therescue?

Why did the International Olympic Committee refuse to acknowledge what washappening by suspending the Games?

Remarkably, Cohn and Macdonald managed to locate Jamil Al-Gashey, the lonesurviving terrorist, who has been in hiding in Africa for more than 25 yearsand is photographed in shadow.

Al-Gashey's bloodless and matter-of-fact recounting of the planning,preparation and execution of the kidnapping, including the overt assistance ofEast German competitors and the unwitting support of drunken American athleteswho helped the Palestinians get into the village, is at once fascinating andfrightening, as is the whole of the film.

With the Sydney Games beginning this week, "One Day in September," whichairs just once on HBO before returning to theaters, is a necessary trip backto the time when our Olympic innocence was lost.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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