COURTESY HONOLULU MARATHON
Former world champion Frank Shorter now likes to run for recreation.
Shorter recalls '72 terrorism
Echoes of Munich follow the perennial marathoner
Frank Shorter heard the shots.
They woke him up.
The 24-year-old American marathoner slept on the balcony of his apartment at the Olympic Village in Munich, West Germany, during the early morning of Sept. 5, 1972. After what at first sounded like "a big door slamming," Shorter went back to sleep, but uneasily; he knew deep down it was gunfire. When he got up later, the vibe was very bad. The birds weren't chirping like usual. Neither were the athletes. The quiet was ominous.
"Usually, there was lots of activity," Shorter said. "Now, silence. No one moving, and we waited for what would happen. We waited the whole day. It turned out the rumor mill was pretty accurate."
Born: Oct. 31, 1947, Munich, Germany
Olympic marathons: Gold, Munich 1972; silver, Montreal 1976
Other highlights: NCAA 10,000 meters champion 1969, U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame, National Distance Running Hall of Fame, U.S. Track and Field Hall of Fame, 14-time national champion, 1972 Sullivan Award winner
Legends of running: Appears with Alberto Salazar, Cosmas Ndeti, Ian Stewart and Greg Meyer for autograph sessions at Honolulu Marathon Expo, today and tomorrow, 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. at Hawai'i Convention Center
Teammate Steve Prefontaine spoke German, and he translated the TV reports -- members of the Israeli Olympic contingent had been killed, and others were being held hostage ... just a few feet from where the Americans were.
The athletes were told to remain in the village, but Shorter, Prefontaine and a few others sneaked out for a run.
"Guards were there with submachine guns. The place was supposed to be sealed off, but we climbed the fence and they let us do it," Shorter said.
Later, after a day of negotiations, helicopters arrived to take eight terrorists and nine hostages to a nearby NATO air base.
"When the helicopters flew away, everyone watching said we were glad that's over," Shorter said. "I turned to (teammate) Kenny Moore. I said, 'Kenny, I don't think this is over.'"
Sadly, Shorter's gut anticipation of dread was on the mark.
It ended even worse than it had begun nearly 24 hours earlier, with 11 Israelis, five terrorists and a German policeman dead after an unsuccessful rescue attempt at the air base.
Many athletes assumed the rest of the Olympics would be canceled, and the first impulse for most was to simply go home. That attitude soon reversed, replaced by one of unified defiance. Shorter said Avery Brundage, president of the International Olympics Committee, made the right decision to continue the Games.
Shorter was among the athletes considered most in danger. The marathon the final high-profile event, and also the most difficult for which to provide security. How do you protect the competitors in a 26.2-mile road race with spectators lining the course?
Shorter's answer is you can't and it doesn't matter.
|"When the helicopters flew away, everyone watching said we were glad that's over. I turned to (teammate) Kenny Moore. I said, 'Kenny, I don't think this is over.'"
Marathon gold medalist in 1972 Munich Olympics
"In the end there was no decision. The idea is, if you let it affect you, the terrorists win," he said. "Initially, all the athletes were in shock. Then you realized you have to do it. Once the gun went off (to start the marathon), I never thought about it."
So four days after the bloodshed, Shorter ran the marathon, through the streets of the city of his birth (his father was a military doctor stationed near Munich in 1947).
And he won the race, capturing the gold medal.
That the event was even held was a symbolic and moral victory for all athletes -- in the long run, the Olympic ideals would prevail. Not that it's easy. Like racing in a marathon, battling terrorism is a rigorous and painful undertaking, Shorter said. He added that too many Americans didn't realize this until the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
"That kind of thing's been going on 33 years. Now we're through the denial, after 9/11," Shorter said. "I think the world has always been dangerous, always dangerous for athletes. Whenever you're in a situation, an activity that can make a statement for a political organization, you're in danger."
Today, the USA Track and Field Hall of Famer is in Hawaii to help promote the Honolulu Marathon. He was scheduled to run a friendly 5K with other marathon legends this morning and sign autographs this afternoon and tomorrow at the Hawai'i Convention Center.
Shorter, now 58, runs between 50 and 60 miles a week. His last marathon was Honolulu two years ago, but he's thinking about running one in Phoenix in January.
"I'm in pretty good shape but I've run over 180,000 miles," Shorter said. "That's why I'm kind of careful. I want to be able to keep running."
Shorter's Olympic victory coincided with the running boom and inspired thousands of Americans to take up the sport competitively and recreationally. He made running and racing seem more like social fun rather than lonely drudgery. Some of that was obviously a mirage.
"When he won his Olympic medals, this guy was so intense sometimes he'd hardly be able to walk," said Craig Young of Honolulu, a friend of Shorter's who has known him 20 years. "But once he got past his prime, he mellowed out and enjoyed it."
Shorter certainly presents a laid-back persona, a poster dad promoting the benefits of running. But he will also always be connected to vigilance and defiance because of those days in Munich.
"Now we all know everyone's involved in their own security," Shorter said. "We finally woke up."
33rd ANNUAL HONOLULU MARATHON
When: Sunday, 5 a.m. start
Where: 26.2-mile course starts at Ala Moana Beach Park and ends at Kapiolani Park via Hawaii Kai
Defending champions: Jimmy Muindi (2:17:12) and Lyubov Morgunova (2:27:33)
Late registration: $125 at Hawai'i Convention Center (ends Saturday, 6 p.m.)
Expo, packet pickup, late registration: Tomorrow (9 a.m. to 7 p.m.), Saturday (9 a.m. to 6 p.m.)
Information: 734-7200, honolulumarathon.org