Munich massacre victims recalled in Olympic finale

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ATLANTA (JTA) — "No act of terrorism has ever destroyed the Olympic movement, and none ever will," said Juan AntonioSamaranch, International Olympic Committee president, as the Atlanta Olympics drew to a close.

To rousing applause, he called for a moment of silence to remember the victims of both the Centennial Park bombing on July 27 and the terrorist attack that killed 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics.

Hearing Samaranch's words was the Israeli Olympic delegation's proudest moment.

"We were excited to [the point of] tears. It might be our biggest victory in this Olympics," said the Israeli team's envoy, Atsmon Paz, in a telephone interview.

"We felt like, `We've done it.' It's like we got a gold medal somehow."

Like a real gold medal, the accomplishment was the result of long struggle — 24 years of it, in fact. And after a two-week burst of Jewish unity, the efforts for international recognition of the Munich 11 paid off in Atlanta.

The pressure began the day before opening ceremonies, when children of the slain athletes arrived in Atlanta to meet with international media and dignitaries.

Their goal was to encourage the IOC to incorporate a moment of silence into the games. Nothing was said at the opening ceremonies, at which point many of the slain athletes' family members walked out in disappointment.

But when a bomb exploded in Centennial Olympic Park on July 27, another opportunity for commemoration arose, said Arye Mekel, Israel consul general to the Southeast.

"It would have been outrageous for [the IOC] not to mention Munich when they mention[ed] the Atlanta bombing." he said. The park bombing "brought the message across that not paying attention to [terrorism] is just not the right way."

Although the athletes' families had left Atlanta by last week, the consulate continued to press the case. Mekel and his staff mobilized Jewish organizational leaders across the country to write and call Samaranch and other Olympic representatives.

In their letters, the Jews urged the officials to pay long-overdue tribute to all victims of terrorism, including the Munich 11.

Several hundred Jews faxed and called the Marriott Marquis hotel downtown, where Samaranch and other IOC members were staying, said Mekel.

Among those joining local organizational faxes were national Jewish groups, including the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council, the Anti-Defamation League and Jewish federations.

Despite the efforts, Mekel said he still was shocked when Samaranch on Sunday night finally reminded the world of the fallen Israeli heroes.

"We didn't know he was actually going to do anything," Mekel said. "Then he came through and said all the right things."

Although it is a victory, the IOC's formal recognition of Munich is only a first step, said Mekel.

The Munich massacre must be remembered at every Olympics, he added. Israeli Olympic officials will meet this month to plan their strategy for the 2000 games in Sydney, Australia.