Fifty years ago today, there came one of the greatest tragedies in the history of sports—a series of horrible events that in time left their fingerprints on the tennis world, too.
The city: Munich, Germany. The event: the 1972 Summer Olympics. Kicked off on Aug. 26, that year’s Olympics featured many highlights that have endured for decades. American swimmer Mark Spitz would go on to win seven gold medals. A charismatic Russian gymnast, 17-year-old Olga Korbut, lit up the world. And for the first time in history, amid considerable controversy, an American basketball team lost a game.
Then everything changed. Early in the morning of Sept. 5, a group of armed Palestinian terrorists broke into the Israeli Olympic team’s apartments. Two Israelis were immediately killed. Nine were taken hostage, the terrorists demanding the release of more than 200 imprisoned Palestinians. Over the course of a long, tense day that stretched into evening and early morning, the entire world watched as authorities attempted to negotiate. Eventually, a rescue attempt failed, and all nine of the hostages were killed.
A terrorist group called Black September took credit for this act.
Tennis and terrorism collided when it was learned that Black September were considering another attack in October—this one to take place during the Davis Cup Challenge Round that was set to happen in Romania and the United States. A major factor was that two members of the American team, Harold Solomon and Brian Gottfried, were Jewish.
The threat of terrorism was but one story line that made what happened in Romania that fall one of the most remarkable tennis events in the sport’s history. Terrorism, Cold War intrigue, tennis politics, incredible tennis—Bucharest at that time had more than any tennis aficionado dared imagine.
So it was that we dispatched Joel Drucker to dig out the tale. Fifty years later, we bring you “Battles of Good & Evil.”
Above: Davis Cup Finals, Bucharest, 1972. (Getty)