Following the “black power” protests that occurred at the 1968 Games in Mexico City, the Games in the 1970s continued toserve asaplaceforpolitical statements.
1972: Terrorism at the GamesAmerican rower Peter Raymond ’68 said thatWest Germany was making its first bid to rejoin the world community after World War II by hostingthe Games.
Thorsteinn Thorstensson Gislason ’69, a runner for Iceland and one of the first few Olympians from the University to represent a nation other than the United States at the Games, said that the 1972 Munich Games were very festive when they began.
“This was the face of New Germany that they were presenting in Munich. They had put a lot of work into it,” Gislason said.
According to Raymond, the “smooth and grassy and treed” hills surrounding the Olympic Village were landfills made of rubble from World War II bombings.
He added that despite the hills, the Olympic Village was a “German version of the fiesta,” with “music, lights, food, un-military uniforms, pastel colors and excitement.”
On the morning of the eleventh day of the Games, however, Palestinian terrorists killed two Israeli athletes and took nine more hostage.
Gislason said that the attack changed the tenor of the Games completely.
“The attack turned the lights out on the party [that was the Village], leaving everyone to stumble around in a daze trying to make sense of the unthinkable. It occurred to me that day, through the perspective of inversion, that the real purpose of the Games has nothing to do with athletics; instead, athletics is simply the excuse to bring the world, or its representatives, together for a party,” Raymond said.Gislason said that the athletes took a day off for introspection and to pay respects to the athletes in the ordeal and to those that had died.“When individuals and whole teams abandoned Munich, no one could blame them. I have no idea what my team would have done had we been forced to choose–our racing was over. But that place was haunted afterward,” Raymond said.
Gislason said that he saw the attacks and news unfold on television, and not in person.
“I might as well have been in New York,” he said of how distanced he felt from the event.
The Games resumed onSeptember 6, a day after the attacks.
Raymond said that he decided to stay back at the Village because he knew that he would never train again.“Those who stayed seemed, in the shadow of the attack, more connected without the competition. We just liked being together, sitting in the dining hall, not necessarily talking. It was a horrible blow to the Germans – the look on their faces, that guarded anticipation of yet another unbearable shaming – very hard to see. And over it all, grief for the Israelis, disbelief,” Raymond added.As for the competition, the U.S. men's eights boatthat Raymond rowed in won a silver medal.“We had a long summer together training and racing in Europe, and, given that the 1971 crew had been probably the worst ever to represent the U.S.–and I was likely the least effective seat in that crew–we were ecstatic to do as well as we did,” Raymond said.
Raymond said that the first thing he did on the morning of the racewas to see if the wind was coming from the worst possible direction for his lane.“My sense of racing at that level was that unlike in college rowing, there you could count on every oarsman's rowing the race of his life. That, therefore, was not a variable, so it was like lining up a bunch of rockets to see which had the strongest engine,” he said.Raymond added that he had already gone over the other five boats before the final race and “for some reason thought” that his team had a good chance of beating everyone but the New Zealanders, which is exactly what happened.He also said that he felt a “weird, warm respect for the other oarsmen,” where before he had been intimidated by everyone and everything.
“Mostly I was thinking about murdering our coxswain who, despite my plea, had delivered us late to the line and cost us a warning which meant that, if we jumped the gun as planned and were assessed a false start, we'd be out of the race,” Raymond said of his thoughts during the race.
Raymond said that at first, he watched the lights on the starting bulkhead to see if his boat was going to get a false start. He added that somewhere soon after the settle, New Zealand’s eight took a drive.
“I was aware that we were going to need a miracle to catch them. At the halfway point, I glanced across the course–we had the outside lane–to see [the New Zealand boat on] open water ahead and the other four boats dead even, at which I thought quite clearly, 'Are you___ing me? I trained four years to come infifthagain?',” Raymond said.
Raymond added that his next clear memory was of realizing that he was in trouble physically, just as his boat began the last quarter with 500 meters to go.“[I remember] thinking, 'That's amazing, because it's isn't the heat. It's cool and we have a headwind.' As we crossed the 500 meter mark where we'd planned to take the stroke up, I said very clearly in my head, 'Monkey–the stroke–if you take it up, after this race I'm going to climb down the boat and strangle you.' Of course he did. Three times. A lot of murderous thoughts that day,” Raymond said.
Gislason ran the 800-meter race, and placed 32ndout of the 64 competitors. He said that at the time of the Games, Gislason was balancing his family with his wife and daughter and his graduate school studies along with his athletic aspirations.
“Could I have gone further in the event in Munich than I did?… Possibly, but it would have been at expense of other things,” Gislason explained.
He added that he was extremely excited when he learned that the Games would be aired on primetime television, which was not something he expected.
“You just needed to get to the finish line as quickly as possible, because there were seven other people wanted to do the same thing,” Gislason said of his thoughts during his races.
1976: The University’s first female Olympians
American rowers Carol Brown ’75 and Mimi Kellogg ’76 were thefirst female Olympians from the University, and the only University representatives at the 1976 Games in Montreal. The 1976 Games were the first Games to feature women’s rowing on the Olympic program.
Brown, who had begun rowing in 1971 during her freshman year, said that shedid not make the decision to try and compete in the Games until her junior year at Princeton.
“So five years after I knew what the sport was, I was sitting on a starting line in Montreal. It was not the usual path to the Olympics for any of us because we didn’t grow up saying, 'Oh, I want to row in the Olympics,' because it didn’t exist,” Brown said.
Earlier that year, Brown’s teammate, Anne Warner from Yale’s Class of 1977, had stripped in the Yale athletic director’s office as part of a protest that sought adequate facilities comparable to their men’s team. Brown said that even though she did not have to go and strip in the University athletic director’s office, the women’s crew team faced some challenges.
According to Brown, the team was not allowed in the boathouse if men were there. Most of the women’s practices were to take place before7:30 a.m.andthe women did not have a locker room and were even denied use of the boathouse bathrooms and showers.
Brown said that things gradually changed at the University when Title IX was introduced in the University in 1973.
“Schools had to give equal comparable access to facilities and to sports. The schools started figuring out that this was serious, and they started paying attention,” Brown said.
Brown added thatalthough women’s rowing was a varsity sport, her team had to have a big sale to buy their coach the megaphone and rain gear required to coach them. Her team drove themselves to races in big University limousines and slept on the floor in group hotel rooms.
Brown stayed at the University after she graduated to train for the Games. During this time, she rowed seven days a week and served as a resident assistant to ten boys who called her ‘Mom’.The selection for the 1976 Games, which was done through a “very intense selection camp” in Boston, did not start untilJune 1, according to Brown.
“We just raced and raced and raced. And the team was named two weeks before the Montreal Olympics,” she said.
According to Brown, when she finally arrived at the Games, there was a lot of security because of the terrorist attacks that had occurred at the previous Games.
“You couldn’t leave your floor – like I couldn’t go and visit the Canadian team, which was new because the Olympic Village has always been about athletes of the world coming together…It was shocking to have military guards with real rifles outside your door and on the buses going to the venues. It stifled a little bit of the spontaneity and interaction,” Brown said.
Brown added that she did not have a lot of experience with international competition until the Games.“Our first race as the U.S. Olympic women’s eight was sitting on the starting line in Montreal at the Olympic Games,” she explained. “We just had a selection camp and we went to Montreal to race the world. So we didn’t have a lot of time to think about ‘Okay, now I’m on the Olympic team.’ It was like, ‘Oh well, I earned my seat and now I’m going to be racing the Russians and the East Germans like next week.’”
Brown said thatblocking out the pain was the main thought on her mind during the race at the Games.
“Nothing is as intensely consuming and painful as rowing. And all you’re doing is just trying to convince your mind that you’re not about to die. And that you can keep going. You have a race plan and coxswain – the one who is in charge of steering the boat–is charged with sort of executing that,” Brown said.
The women’s eights boat that Brown was a part of won a bronze medal. Brown said that while she was being awarded the medal, she was thinking primarily of how tired she was.