Life in the Olympic Village

The infrastructure at the Village is the same as in the past, except for the fact that they need to cater to a larger number of athletes and the media today. What has changed dramatically is the security arrangement. It is intrusive, but necessary.

An aerial view of the Olympic Village, with the Press city in the background, at 1972 Munich Olympics.   -  THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY

The Munich Olympics was held from August 26 to September 11, 1972. It was my first Olympics, and we were expected to win the gold medal in hockey. Hence, there was plenty of excitement and a lot of expectation from the Indian team. In those days, the Indian hockey team was treated with great admiration and respect.

The Germans were eager to present a new image of their country as a democratic and progressive nation. They were out to prove that they had recovered from the Second World War. They put up a great show as per the official motto, “The Cheerful Games”. The official mascot was a dachshund, Waldi. The facilities were great. The Olympic Park became a Munich landmark after the Games. The competition stadiums included a swimming hall, the Olympic Hall — a multi-purpose facility — the Olympic Stadium and the Olympic Village.

 

The Village accommodated 8000 athletes and another 6000 from the press. The main dining hall served 3000 people in one sitting with a variety of food — even Indian on some days.

The Munich Olympics was truly a global carnival celebrating sports. In 1972, sports was predominately amateur and the athletes were approachable. I had the great privilege of a photo-op with Mark Spitz, who had won seven gold medals in swimming, in the Adidas showroom. This was unique because soon after the Munich massacre he was packed off to the United States, as he was a Jew.

The other highlights were meeting stars such as Olga Korbut (three gold medals in gymnastics), Lasse Viren (gold in 5000m and 10000m), Valery Borzov (100m & 200m gold) and Shane Gould (three gold, one silver and one bronze in swimming).

It was good for us, particularly the hockey team, as we were the stars of the Indian contingent. Besides, we were a relatively young side as most of the seniors had retired after the 1968 Olympics.

The ID cards issued to players allowed us to use the facilities at the Games one month before the start and two months after the completion of the Olympics. I toured Germany with my good friend from school, Rui Saldanha, who was playing hockey for Great Britain, for a month.

The fondest memory of the Games was the participation of hundreds of athletes at the Village Disco after the Closing Ceremony.

The Munich massacre took place on the morning of September 5, when two Israelis were killed in their quarters, and nine hostages and a German police officer were shot dead by the Palestinian terrorist group Black September.

 

The German security kept the Israeli quarters isolated from the rest of the Village. All television sets and newspapers were removed from the Village, so we actually knew less than our relatives back home who were following the massacre unfold.

This was the first time that there was a terrorist attack at a sporting event. There was sadness for the victims and confusion regarding continuing with the Games. After a sombre funeral at the Olympic Stadium on September 6, 1972, it was announced that the Games would resume on September 7. It was a message to the terrorists that sports always prevails.

Indian sport has come a long way from winning medals only in hockey to winning in other disciplines. Our athletes need to focus and prepare for their events. My advice to them is not to be distracted from their goal, which is winning medals. They can enjoy themselves and take in Rio’s excitement later.

Seniors such as Abhinav Bindra and Leander Paes will play a great role in mentoring and guiding the younger athletes in the Indian contingent. We have to recognise the fact that they will also be busy preparing for their events. Leander always supports the Indian hockey team and attends its matches.

I have had the privilege to attending six Olympics as a participant and sports medicine consultant. Basically the infrastructure at the Village is the same as in the past, except for the fact that they need to cater to a larger number of athletes and the media today. What has changed dramatically is the security arrangements. It is intrusive, but necessary.