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September 04, 1987 - Image 29

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1987-09-04

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Israel's Team
Was 'Like A Family'


Special to the Jewish News

erusalem — By September, 1972,
Esther Roth had hit her peak. She had
broken every Israeli record for the
100-meter and 200-meter dashes and
hurdles; she had racked up an impressive
string of triumphs at international track
As the plane carrying Israel's finest
athletes left Ben-Gurion Airport for
Munich, she was regarded as the best hope
ever for winning Israel's first Olympic
medal. Roth's chance to make Israeli sport-
ing history — "everything I had lived for"
— was scheduled for Thursday, September
7, in Lane Three of the Olympic Stadium.
She had successfully navigated her way
through the gruelling qualifying rounds in
the 100-meter hurdles and was now ready
to compete against the other finalists, the
very best in the world. "My hurdles tech-
nique was not perfect — I had only been
hurdling for two years — but my sprint was
good;' Roth told The Jewish News last
week. "Each time I ran, I broke my own
record. No one knew what I might do in the
finals. . !'
No one will ever know.
At midnight on September 5, Roth was
awakened by her roommate, Israeli swim-
mer Shlomit Nir, with bad news. Some-
thing terrible was happening in the men's
quarters of the Olympic Village 200 yards
away. "We were just two girls on the Israeli
team;' says Roth. "We were very young,
very frightened and very alone. A woman
guard took us to another building and we
waited there through the night and the
following day, watching the television and
crazy with worry. There was no accurate
news. We knew no more about what was
happening than anyone else. The loud-
speakers kept making routine announce-
ments about sports events. They kept play-
ing music. Everybody just continued as if

Before the tragedy: The Israeli Olympic team
parades into the Olympic Stadium in Munich during
the opening ceremonies. Eleven days later, 11
members of the team were killed.

everything was normal. As if this was on-
ly some small thing. It was like a show. Peo-
ple came as close as they could to look at
the spectacle. They brought their cameras
so they could go home with souvenirs. Even
the Olympic officials seemed to be more
concerned about persuading us to continue
in our events than they were about the
catastrophe that had befallen us:'
Eventually, officials told the Israeli
girls that two of their teammates had been
killed by terrorists. Nevertheless, - they
said, Roth might still have to compete the
following day. She was given a sleeping pill
and sent to bed. "In the morning, they
came quietly to tell me the terrible news,"
says Roth. "Nine more athletes had been
murdered. You cannot forget a moment like
that. Israel is a small country, the team
was like a family?'
Among the dead was Amitsur Shapira.
"He had been my teacher, my coach for six
years. He was like a father to me?'
When the finals of the women's
100-meter hurdles was eventually run after
a 24-hour suspension of the Games, Lane
Three was empty.
At that moment, Esther Roth and other
survivors of Israel's Olympic team were on
their way home to a shocked and grieving
Israel. With them on the plane were the
bodies of their dead teammates.
For Roth, now 34, Munich killed a per-
sonal dream — "and the very idea of sport?'
She went on to participate in the Mon-
treal Olympics four years later — not so
much a competitor as an Israeli deter-
mined to make a point: "The medals meant
nothing to me. I went because we had to
make the world remember our team and
our coach. It wasn't easy to continue, but
we had to show them that they could not
s top us. We had to show them that while
we might be afraid, we could not be
frightened away. We had to show them
that we had survived and that they had not
achieved a victory?' At Montreal, four years
after having reached the peak of her powers
in Munich, Esther Roth placed



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