Mark Spitz Remembers the Terrorist Attack at the 1972 Olympics

Season 6 Episode 616
CC | tv-14
In 1972, the Munich Summer Olympic Games went from being a celebration of national pride and athletic prowess to something akin to a stomach-churning suspense film in a matter of seconds.

In the early morning of September 5, a Palestinian terrorist group known as Black September jumped the fence that encircled the Olympic Village. The gang tried to round up Israeli Olympians from a couple of apartments, and two were killed in the process. Nine were taken hostage. In exchange, Black September wanted 234 prisoners jailed in Israel released, as well as the founders of the far-left militant German group Red Army Faction.

The negotiation did not go smoothly. The stand-off ended in a huge gunfight that left five terrorists and the nine remaining hostages dead, including athletes and coaches.

Olympic swimmer Mark Spitz was competing that year, and remembers watching the event unfold on TV without a clue as to what was going on.

"I don't think anybody knew what was happening at the time," Mark tells Oprah: Where Are They Now?, "but then all of a sudden there was this lockdown and nobody could get into the Village."

When news first broke, Mark was at a press conference. "[An official] did the interview with me about winning the seven gold medals, but then we noticed on the monitors: There was a guy that came out on a balcony that had some kind of a hat on there, and what we know now in history was is that there was the terrorists who came in that killed two people. One of them they threw over the balcony."

"It was a very unfortunate. It was kind of like, 'Wow.' I can't believe I was there, and I can't believe what happened," Mark says in astonishment. "I was just like just anybody else just watching TV in America or anywhere else in the world for that matter."