More than Four Decades Later Slain Israeli Athletes Honored at Olympics

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For the first time since the kidnapping and massacre of 11 Israeli athletes at the Munich games in 1972, the International Olympic Committee held a ceremony to honor the victims in Rio de Janeiro before the 2016 summer games began.

The committee previously refused to hold a moment of silence for the slain athletes even on the 40th anniversary of the tragedy during the 2012 Olympics in London. Widows of two of the murdered Israeli athletes, Ankie Spitzer and Ilana Romano, continued campaigning to have the Israelis officially honored. They finally met with success when Thomas Bach of Germany became IOC president in September 2013.

During the ceremony last week, Bach said the massacre was “an assault on the values that the Olympic Village stands for.”

A Palestinian terrorist group took 11 Israeli athletes and coaches hostage at the Olympic village and demanded the release of 234 Arab prisoners in Israeli jails. In the German rescue attempt, police killed five of the terrorists, but all 11 Israeli hostages and a German police officer were killed. Three terrorists were captured and released five years later.

The “Place of Mourning” at Rio’s Olympic Village honors the memory of the Israelis, the German policeman, two victims of a bombing at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta and a Georgian athlete who died in an accident at Vancouver’s 2010 Winter Olympics.

“We waited for this for 44 years, to have this remembrance and recognition of our loved ones who were killed so brutally in Munich. We wanted them to be really accepted as members of the Olympic family,” Spitzer said at the ceremony. “Now that President Bach had a minute of silence in the Olympic village, calling out the names of our loved ones, this is closure for us. I cannot explain how emotional I am, how much this means to us.”

“This is an extremely emotional moment for us, one we have been waiting for since 1972,” Romano said. “Our patience finally paid off. The memory of the 11 Munich victims has finally been acknowledged by the IOC.”

A ceremony will take place at Rio’s city hall on August 14 for the Israeli 11, with Romano, Spitzer, officials from the Israeli Olympic Committee and the Israeli Consulate. And a moment of reflection for the Munich 11 will be held during the Games’ closing ceremony on August 21 as well.

Forty-seven Israeli athletes are competing in 17 different events in the summer Olympic games in Rio.