No more Olympic terror, but now we have To beat a new enemy, says Mark Spitz

Swimming legend and Laureus Academy Member Mark Spitz shares the world’s fears for the future after the coronavirus pandemic.
He says: “I think coronavirus is going to change the way we do a lot of things, not only with regard to sport.”
The postponement of the Olympic Games has once again put the world’s biggest sports event at the centre of the news agenda and for Spitz has revived memories of the most traumatic moment in his life, when he found himself in the middle of one of the most appalling terrorist atrocities in history.
Spitz had made sporting history in the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, winning seven gold medals and setting seven world records, but the joy of his achievement was instantly overshadowed by an attack by Palestine terrorist group Black September on Israeli athletes.
Speaking to, Spitz, now 70, recalls how the horror unfolded for him.
“Unfortunately, the day after I finished my swimming competition, the Israelis, 11 of them, were gunned down by terrorists.
“The terrorist attacks began at the Olympic Village and I was in the village, just hundreds of yards away from where they had broken into the compound and where the Israelis were being held hostage.
“When I woke up, I had no idea that this was going on. As a matter of fact, I was going to a press conference to talk about the success that I had just achieved in winning seven gold medals. But when I got to that press conference at 9am, it became a big discussion as to what I knew coming from the village. Did I notice anything unique? Was there any hearsay that Israelis had been captured?
“It wasn’t until the late evening that we realised that they had been taken away to a military base where they had all been killed.
“I have carried on my life for the last 48 years explaining what my feelings have been about that tragic incident. Having contacted and been aware of the wives of some of those athletes that had been killed, I know that they would have thought that the Olympics should continue.
“Not ‘in memory of them’ but, more importantly, that the actual thing that happened to them became less important than the idea that terrorism wouldn’t prevail.
“I think they’ve done a great job over the last 48 years not having any sort of incident that was as catastrophic as 1972. I think the Olympic movement has done a good job of moving forward in that regard,” added Spitz, who is currently quarantined in his house in Los Angeles.
“Originally, when we were told about this virus and that we needed to stay inside, it was for a two week period of time, but I realised that wasn’t realistic because there was no cure for this particular pandemic. Fortunately for me, I have no family or friends that have been affected.
“I take my hat off to the doctors and nurses that are out there on the front lines risking their lives. I think in the beginning they didn’t realise how dangerous it was going to be out there to help others, but they’re relentless with their energies and their efforts, helping all of us when we’re in need.
“Coronavirus has impacted us worldwide and I think it will be here for much longer than we anticipate and I think that we’re doing a great job of adapting to this type of environment.”
Spitz agrees with the general view that the International Olympic Committee took the right move in postponing the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games, even though it was a disappointment for athletes and sports fans.
“At least it affects most people in the same way and it affects all kinds of sports in a similar fashion,” he says. “However, if you are towards the end of your athletic career, because of your age, whether or not you can still stay in shape and still train for another year, can become extremely difficult emotionally.
“It will be interesting to watch the athletes that didn’t get a chance to participate in 2020 in 2021. Certainly in my sport, swimming, we'll be looking at names like Caeleb Dressel, Katie Ledecky and all of those other athletes that are currently world ranked.”
Spitz is even concerned that no one is really sure what the state of the world will be in 2021 because of the pandemic.
He says: “I don’t think we really have all the answers to this coronavirus that’s with us right now, as to how this is going to impact the world economically.
“One of the big questions you have to ask yourselves is what happens a year from now, when we’re about a month away from the Olympic Games starting in Tokyo in 2021 and we find that Japan is not prepared economically to be able to host the Games?”
Meanwhile, along with all the other Laureus Academy Members, Spitz is doing what he can to encourage young people who are currently attending Laureus Sport for Good programmes around the world.
Over the last 20 years, Laureus has raised more than €150m for the Sport for Development sector, reaching and helping change the lives of almost six million children and young people. Laureus currently supports more than 200 programmes in over 40 countries that use the power of sport to transform lives.
Spitz said: “Laureus believes in bringing people together and building bridges between communities and individuals. Today, there is more need for this than ever. That nations of the world are co-operating to share an understanding and an expertise to beat this terrible menace of a virus. Laureus will keep on working with young people for as long as we’re able to.
“People tend to listen to what great sports stars have to say as role models and I hope we can help to get that important message across: keep hope, hang in there, stay healthy.
“There’s no guarantee that we’re going to find a vaccine for this virus. You know it’s been almost 40 years and they still don’t have a vaccine for HIV, but we’re still here and we still made it. So I’m hoping, very soon, that we’ll be all back to normal, whatever that normal may be,” said Spitz.

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