Today, Fire and Rescue Services commissioner Shahar Ayalon is busy building his
organization into a 21st-century firefighting organization.
But 40 years
ago, aged 16 and a promising runner, he was sure his future lay in
Ayalon arrived at the Munich Olympics with several other young
Israeli athletes, not knowing he would fly home with the coffins of 11 Israeli
sportsmen slain by Palestinian terrorists.
The trauma from that event,
Ayalon told The Jerusalem Post on Monday, caused him to abandon his athletic
career and join the Border Police’s Counter-Terrorism Unit, paving the path for
a life in the security forces and law enforcement.
“The organizers of the
1972 Olympics brought delegations of promising youths from all countries to the
games, to give them an experience of the event,” Ayalon, formerly head of the
Tel Aviv police district, recalled. The invitation was designed to prepare the
youths to compete four years later at the Montreal Olympics.
“We went to
competitions and trained with others from all over the world,” he
All the young Israeli athletes looked up to their adult
counterparts in the Olympic delegation, from wrestlers to weightlifters to
“They were our role models.
We truly admired them,”
Ayalon said, adding that the youths interacted closely with their heroes. “We
gave them water on long runs and cheered them on. The connection was very
The night the terrorists attacked, Ayalon was at the Youth
Olympic Village, next door to where the adult athletes were staying.
had uniforms with Israeli symbols and no security. We were even more
vulnerable than the official delegation. But they went for the adult
athletes,” he said of the terrorists. “We were woken up at night and placed under
heavy security. After the hostages were killed in the helicopter the Olympics
were placed on hold for 24 hours. There was a memorial in the stadium. We
sat on the grass watching it,” he recalled.
Next, Ayalon said, the youth
delegates boarded a flight back to Israel with 11 coffins.
“We drove with
the coffins to Kiryat Shaul [a cemetery in Tel Aviv], where they were
Ayalon said the trauma stayed with him for life.
that day, we, the members of the Israeli youth delegation, went our separate
ways, and most of us left sports,” he told the Post. “We all kept what we felt to ourselves.
In those days, there were no
psychologists for trauma.
No one talked about it very much. We didn’t
return to the Montreal Olympics. Our trauma was not treated until this day,
although I don’t blame anyone.”
Ayalon said the parents of the youth
delegates suffered their own torment while waiting for their children to return
“There were no cellphones or emails either,” he
Ayalon excelled in the 400- meter dash and the 1,500- meter
middle-distance event, but after Munich he left the sporting world. He joined
the Israel Police’s elite counter-terrorism unit in 1977.
I’ve been in counter-terrorism and police for 35 years,” he said.
months ago Ayalon met with members of that same youth delegation at Kibbutz
Mishmar Hasharon near Netanya for their first reunion.
For the first time
in 40 years they discussed their feelings about the terrorist attack and
discovered how similarly it had affected them.
“It was a very emotional
meeting,” Ayalon said.