Supriya Ghosh (Editor)

1972 Summer Olympics

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Host city
Munich, West Germany

195 in 21 sports

Nations participating

Opening ceremony
August 26

1972 Summer Olympics

The Happy Games (German: Glückliche Spiele)

Athletes participating
7,134 (6,075 men, 1,059 women)

The 1972 Summer Olympics (German: Olympische Sommerspiele 1972), officially known as the Games of the XX Olympiad, was an international multi-sport event held in Munich, West Germany, from August 26 to September 11, 1972.


The sporting nature of the event was largely overshadowed by the Munich massacre in which eleven Israeli athletes and coaches and a West German police officer were killed. Five Black September Palestinian terrorists died.

The 1972 Summer Olympics were the second Summer Olympics to be held in Germany, after the 1936 Games in Berlin, which had taken place under the Nazi regime. Mindful of the connection, the West German Government was eager to take the opportunity of the Munich Olympics to present a new, democratic and optimistic Germany to the world, as shown by the Games' official motto, "Die Heiteren Spiele", or "the cheerful Games". The logo of the Games was a blue solar logo (the "Bright Sun") by Otl Aicher, the designer and director of the visual conception commission. The Olympic mascot, the dachshund "Waldi", was the first officially named Olympic mascot. The Olympic Fanfare was composed by Herbert Rehbein, a companion of Bert Kaempfert.

The Olympic Park (Olympiapark) is based on Frei Otto's plans and after the Games became a Munich landmark. The competition sites, designed by architect Günther Behnisch, included the Olympic swimming hall, the Olympics Hall (Olympiahalle, a multipurpose facility) and the Olympic Stadium (Olympiastadion), and an Olympic village very close to the park. The design of the stadium was considered revolutionary, with sweeping canopies of acrylic glass stabilized by metal ropes, used on such a large scale for the first time.

Host city selection

Munich won its Olympic bid on April 26, 1966, at the 64th IOC Session at Rome, Italy, over bids presented by Detroit, Madrid, and Montréal. Montreal would eventually host the following Olympic games in 1976.

Munich massacre

The Games were largely overshadowed by what has come to be known as the "Munich massacre". Just before dawn on September 5, a group of eight members of the Black September Palestinian terrorist organization broke into the Olympic Village and took nine Israeli athletes, coaches and officials hostage in their apartments. Two of the hostages who resisted were killed in the first moments of the break-in; the subsequent standoff in the Olympic Village lasted for almost 18 hours.

Late in the evening of September 5 that same day, the terrorists and their hostages were transferred by helicopter to the military airport of Fürstenfeldbruck, ostensibly to board a plane bound for an undetermined Arab country. The German authorities planned to ambush them there, but underestimated the numbers of their opposition and were thus undermanned. During a botched rescue attempt, all of the Israeli hostages were killed. Four of them were shot, then incinerated when one of the terrorists detonated a grenade inside the helicopter in which the hostages were sitting. The five remaining hostages were then machine-gunned to death.

All but three of the terrorists were killed as well. Although arrested and imprisoned pending trial, they were released by the West German government on October 29, 1972, in exchange for a hijacked Lufthansa jet. Two of those three were supposedly hunted down and assassinated later by the Mossad. Jamal Al-Gashey, who is believed to be the sole survivor, is still living today in hiding in an unspecified African country with his wife and two children. The Olympic events were suspended several hours after the initial attack, but once the incident was concluded, Avery Brundage, the International Olympic Committee president, declared that "the Games must go on". A memorial ceremony was then held in the Olympic stadium, and the competitions resumed after a stoppage of 24 hours. The attack prompted heightened security at subsequent Olympics beginning with the 1976 Winter Olympics. Security at Olympics was heightened further beginning with the 2002 Winter Olympics, as they were the first to take place since September 11, 2001.

The massacre led the German federal government to re-examine its anti-terrorism policies, which at the time were dominated by a pacifist approach adopted after World War II. This led to the creation of the elite counter-terrorist unit GSG 9, similar to the British SAS. It also led Israel to launch a campaign known as Operation Wrath of God, in which those suspected of involvement were systematically tracked down and assassinated.

The events of the Munich massacre were chronicled in the Oscar-winning documentary, One Day in September. An account of the aftermath is also dramatized in three films: the 1976 made-for-TV movie 21 Hours at Munich, the 1986 made-for-TV movie Sword of Gideon and Steven Spielberg's 2005 film Munich. In her film 1972, Artist Sarah Morris interviews Dr. Georg Sieber, a former police psychiatrist who advised the Olympics' security team, about the events and aftermath of Black September.


  • These were the final Olympic Games under the IOC presidency of Avery Brundage.
  • Mark Spitz, a swimmer from the United States, set a world record when he won seven gold medals (while on the way to setting a new world record for each of his seven gold medals) in a single Olympics, bringing his lifetime total to nine (he had won two golds in Mexico City's Games four years earlier). Being Jewish, Spitz was asked to leave Munich before the closing ceremonies for his own protection, after fears arose that he would be an additional target of those responsible for the Munich massacre. Spitz's record stood until 2008, when it was beaten by Michael Phelps who won 8 gold medals in the pool.
  • Olga Korbut, a Soviet gymnast, became a media star after winning a gold medal in the team competition event, failing to win in the individual all-around after a fall (she was beaten by Lyudmilla Turischeva), and finally winning two gold medals in the Balance Beam and the floor exercise events.
  • In the final of the men's basketball, the United States lost to the Soviet Union, in what USA Basketball calls "the most controversial game in international basketball history". In a close-fought match, the U.S. team had appeared to have won by a score of 50–49. However, due to confusing signals from the scorer's table, the final 3 seconds of the game were replayed twice and the Soviet team was able to regain the lead and claim a 51-50 victory. Ultimately the U.S team refused to accept their silver medals, which remain held in a vault in Lausanne, Switzerland.
  • Lasse Virén of Finland won the 5,000 and 10,000 m (the latter after a fall), a feat he repeated in the 1976 Summer Olympics.
  • Valeriy Borzov of the Soviet Union won both the 100 m and 200 m in track and field. The top two US sprinters and medal favorites in the 100 m, Rey Robinson and Eddie Hart, missed their quarter final heats after being given the wrong starting time.
  • Two American 400 m runners, Vincent Matthews and Wayne Collett, acted casually on the medal stand, twirled their medals (gold and silver, respectively), joked with one another and did not face the American flag as "The Star-Spangled Banner" was being played during the award ceremony. They were banned from the Olympics for life, as Tommie Smith and John Carlos had been in the 1968 Summer Olympics. Since John Smith had pulled a hamstring in the final and had been ruled unfit to run, the United States were forced to scratch from the 4×400 m relay.
  • US athlete Dave Wottle won the men's 800 m, after being last for the first 600 m, at which point he started to pass runner after runner up the final straightaway, finally grabbing the lead in the final 18 metres to win by 0.03 seconds ahead of the favorite, the Soviet Yevgeny Arzhanov. At the victory ceremony, Wottle forgot to remove his golf cap. This was interpreted by some as a form of protest against the Vietnam War, but Wottle later apologized.
  • Australian swimmer Shane Gould won three gold medals, a silver, and a bronze medal at the age of 15.
  • Hurdler Abdalá Bucaram carried the Ecuadorian flag at the opening ceremony. 24 years later he became the President of Ecuador. In Munich, he had to pull out of his event due to injury.
  • Handball (last held in 1936) and Archery (last held in 1920) returned as Olympic sports after a long absence.
  • Slalom canoeing was held for the first time at the Olympics.
  • Dan Gable won the gold medal in wrestling without having a single point scored against him. No other athlete has ever accomplished such a feat in Olympic wrestling.
  • Wim Ruska became the first judoka to win two gold medals.
  • For the first time, the Olympic Oath was taken by a representative of the referees.
  • American Frank Shorter, who was born in Munich, became the first from his country in 64 years to win the Olympic marathon. As Shorter was nearing the stadium, German student Norbert Sudhaus entered the stadium wearing a track uniform, joined the race and ran the last kilometre; thinking he was the winner, the crowd began cheering him before officials realized the hoax and security escorted Sudhaus off the track. Arriving seconds later, Shorter was understandably perplexed to see someone ahead of him and to hear the boos and catcalls meant for Sudhaus. This was the third time in Olympic history that an American had won the marathon (after Thomas Hicks 1904 and Johnny Hayes 1908) — and in none of those three instances did the winner enter the stadium first.
  • Badminton and water skiing were demonstration sports.
  • Venues

  • Munich Olympic Park (Olympiapark)
  • Olympic Stadium (Olympiastadion) – opening/closing ceremonies, athletics, equestrian (jumping team), football (final), modern pentathlon (running), memorial service for Israeli athletes
  • Boxing Hall (Boxhalle) – boxing, judo (final)
  • Cycling Stadium (Radstadion) – cycling (track)
  • Olympic Sports Hall (Sporthalle) – gymnastics, handball (final)
  • Hockey Facility (Hockeyanlage) – field hockey
  • Swimming Hall (Schwimmhalle) – swimming, diving, water polo (final), modern pentathlon (swimming)
  • Volleyball Hall (Volleyballhalle) – volleyball
  • Olympic Village (Olympisches Dorf)
  • Venues in Greater Munich
  • Regatta Course (Regattastrecke), Oberschleißheim – canoe sprint, rowing
  • Basketball Hall (Basketballhalle), Siegenburger Straße – basketball, judo
  • Fairgrounds, Fencing Hall 1 (Messegelände, Fechthalle 1) – fencing (final)
  • Fairgrounds, Fencing Hall 2 (Messegelände, Fechthalle 2) – fencing, modern pentathlon (fencing)
  • Fairgrounds, Weightlifting Hall (Messegelände, Gewichtheberhalle) – weightlifting
  • Fairgrounds, Judo and Wrestling Hall (Messegelände, Judo- und Ringerhalle) – judo, wrestling
  • Dante Swimming Pool (Dantebad) – water polo
  • Shooting Facility (Schießanlage), Hochbrück – shooting, modern pentathlon (shooting)
  • Archery Facility (Bogenschießanlage), Englischer Garten – archery
  • Riding Facility, Riem – equestrian (jumping individual, eventing cross-country), modern pentathlon (riding)
  • Dressage Facility Nymphenburg – equestrian (dressage)
  • Grünwald – cycling (individual road race)
  • Other venues
  • Olympic Yachting Center, Kiel-Schilksee – water skiing, sailing
  • Urban Stadium (Nuremberg) – football/soccer preliminaries
  • Jahnstadion (Regensburg) – football/soccer preliminaries
  • Drei Flüsse Stadion (Passau) – football/soccer preliminaries
  • ESV-Stadion (Ingolstadt) – football/soccer preliminaries
  • Augsburg – canoe slalom (Eiskanal), football/soccer preliminaries (Rosenaustadion), handball preliminaries (Sporthalle Augsburg)
  • Donauhalle Ulm – handball preliminaries
  • Hohenstaufenhalle Göppingen (Göppingen) – handball preliminaries
  • Böblingen Sportshalle – handball preliminaries
  • Bundesautobahn 96 – cycling (road team time trial)
  • Cost

    The Oxford Olympics Study established the outturn cost of the Munich 1972 Summer Olympics at USD 1.0 billion in 2015-dollars. This includes sports-related costs only, that is, (i) operational costs incurred by the organizing committee for the purpose of staging the Games, e.g., expenditures for technology, transportation, workforce, administration, security, catering, ceremonies, and medical services, and (ii) direct capital costs incurred by the host city and country or private investors to build, e.g., the competition venues, the Olympic village, international broadcast center, and media and press center, which are required to host the Games. Indirect capital costs are not included, such as for road, rail, or airport infrastructure, or for hotel upgrades or other business investment incurred in preparation for the Games but not directly related to staging the Games. The cost for Munich 1972 compares with costs of USD 4.6 billion for Rio 2016 and USD 15 billion for London 2012, the latter being the most costly Summer Olympics to date. Average cost for Summer Games since 1960 is USD 5.2 billion.

    Medals awarded

    The 1972 Summer Olympic programme featured 195 events in the following 21 sports:

    Demonstration sports

  • Badminton
  • Water skiing
  • Calendar

    All times are in Central European Time (UTC+1)

    Medal count

    These are the top ten nations that won medals at the 1972 Games.


      *   Host nation (West Germany)

    Participating National Olympic Committees

    Eleven nations made their first Olympic appearance in Munich: Albania, Dahomey (now Benin), Gabon, North Korea, Lesotho, Malawi, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Swaziland, Togo, Upper Volta (now Burkina Faso).

    The Parade of Nations was organised according to the German alphabet, with the first country following Greece being Egypt, whilst East Germany was referred to as DDR (not Deutsche Demokratische Republik, German Democratic Republic), the Soviet Union as UdSSR and the United States as USA as well as the host country as Deutschland (Germany).

    Rhodesia's invitation to take part in the 1972 Summer Games was withdrawn by the International Olympic Committee four days before the opening ceremony, in response to African countries' protests against the Rhodesian government. (Rhodesia did, however, compete in the 1972 Summer Paralympics, held a little earlier in Heidelberg.)


    1972 Summer Olympics Wikipedia