Olympics Opening Ceremony Commemorates Murder of Israeli Athletes for First Time

Relatives of the Israeli athletes killed at the 1972 Olympics have long asked for commemoration at the opening ceremony

Hanna Minenko and Yakov Toumarkin carry the Israeli flag during the Olympics opening ceremony in Tokyo, Friday.
Hanna Minenko and Yakov Toumarkin carry the Israeli flag during the Olympics opening ceremony in Tokyo, Friday.Credit: AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko

The opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics on Friday included an unprecedented commemoration and moment of silence for the Israeli athletes slain by Palestinian militant groups during the 1972 Munich Olympics.

Eleven Israeli athletes were killed in September 1972, when Palestinian militants belonging to a group called Black September stormed the Olympic village. Two were killed on the spot, and nine died later in a gun battle between Palestinian gunmen and German sharpshooters.

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Ankie Spitzer and Ilana Romano, widows of two of the murdered Israeli athletes, had been campaigning for years to have the Israelis officially commemorated. They were unsuccessful until Thomas Bach, of Germany, became International Olympic Committee president in September 2013, and in 2016, more than four decades after the massacre, an official ceremony was held at a designated memorial site in Rio de Janeiro. This marks the first time that a memorial was held during the opening ceremony.

"We, the Olympic community, also remember all the Olympians and members of our community who have so sadly left us, in particular we remember those who lost their lives during the Olympic Games," said an announcer during the opening ceremony.

"One group still holds a strong place in all our memories and stand for all those we have lost at the games – the members of the Israeli delegation at the Olympic Games Munich 1972," the announcer added as the stadium darkened and a soft blue light illuminated parts of the arena.

The Israeli delegation was 17th to march in the opening ceremony, and consists of 90 people, 35 of them athletes. During their entrance, swimmer Yakov Toumarkin and jumper Hanna Knyazyeva-Minenko raised the Israeli flag.

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