XX. Summer Olympic Games: sports and atmosphere in Munich

Sport and atmosphere at the 1972 Olympics in Munich - Photo: Horstmüller

Medals, records and the Olympic spirit

62,000 visitors gathered in the brand-new Olympic Stadium for the opening ceremony of the Munich Games on August 26, 1972. After the entry of the nations, everyone waited eagerly for the highlight of the ceremony moderated by stadium announcer Joachim Fuchsberger: the lighting of the Olympic flame. This honorable task was given to junior runner Günter Zahn, who carried the torch into the stadium as the final runner of 6,000 torch runners and finally lit the fire. In the following two weeks, 7,170 athletes from 121 nations competed for gold, silver and bronze in 195 events. True to the Olympic motto "Faster, Higher, Stronger," millions in front of their screens and in the competition venues marveled at numerous top sporting performances. The fastest in the Olympic swimming pool was Mark Spitz. With seven world records and seven (!) gold medals, the U.S. swimmer was the outstanding athlete of the Games. The only 16-year-old German high jumper Ulrike Meyfarth jumped as high as no woman before: 1.92 meters, world record, gold medal. Klaus Wolfermann threw the javelin the farthest, and Heide Rosendahl became double Olympic champion with gold in the long jump and the 4x100-meter relay. Despite these special highlights in athletics, the Federal Republic's Olympic team ultimately had to settle for fourth place in the medal table, directly behind the GDR. For the SED leadership, this was a great politicized prestige success over the "class enemy". The most successful team became the Soviet Union ahead of the United States. With the lighting of the flame, the Olympic spark finally spread to the people of Munich. There was an unprecedented euphoria and spirit of optimism throughout the state capital. Munich presented itself as a great cosmopolitan host for its more than four million visitors. The hitherto unique concept for Munich 1972 enabled encounters between locals, guests and athletes from all over the world. It was here, for example, that the then Swedish Crown Prince Carl Gustaf and a 29-year-old hostess from Heidelberg met. Years later, the two married and Silvia Sommerlath from Heidelberg became Queen Silvia of Sweden. For one week, the Munich dream of the "cheerful games" was a reality. On September 5, 1972, the dream was to become a nightmare.