Murder and magic… my Olympic story: Our veteran of 19 Games recalls 10 vivid memories
22:45 GMT, 24 July 2012
Masked evil: A hooded Palestinian terrorist on the balcony of the Israeli quarters
MUNICH — Sept 5, 1972
Security was not tight at the Athletes’ Village in Munich, as the Palestinian terrorists had discovered four hours earlier. I ran into the Village, wearing a British tracksuit hastily ‘borrowed’ from an athlete’s husband still asleep on the couch in my media apartment. The armed guard, seeing an Olympic accreditation card dangling round my neck, waved me through an open gateway, assuming I was an athlete returning from a morning run. Minutes later the village was shut to outsiders.
The only information I had from my London office was that someone had been killed, thought at that time to be a chef. I spent the next 13 hours in an upper floor of the Italian team quarters overlooking 31 Connellystrasse where the Israeli athletes had been taken hostage, communicating what I could see on the internal phone to a colleague in the media village who filed it on to London.
MONTREAL — 1976
to believe but the controversy of those Games was in modern pentathlon.
Boris Onischenko — ‘Dis-honest-Chenko’ as Fleet Street named the Soviet
— rigged a device in his fencing epee which registered hits when he
pressed a button. British veteran Jim Fox spotted something was up and
asked for the weapon to be examined. With the game up, Soviet officials
rushed their man out of the country but poor Fox was left devastated.
of Fleet Street’s finest had been present — the five-day event was
given little coverage and the fencing section none — and when they
arrived hot foot after news spread, they demanded a press conference.
The competition was stopped, Fox was called to account for himself and,
unsurprisingly, returned to one of his worst days, winning only 23 of
his 55 contests. Fortunately, two younger team-mates kept GB in
contention and all three ran a blinder on day five to win Britain’s
first gold in the sport. Years later Fox said: ‘It took an experienced
idiot like me nearly to lose the medal.’
MONTREAL — 1976
No beating around the bush: Jim Rosenthal
Only since Moscow have the press been excluded from the Athletes' Village. Before that we could wander into the British block at will. I conducted several interviews with British athletes seated on their beds. Jim Rosenthal, then covering for the string of BBC local radio stations, had a unique method of obtaining interviews for local consumption. He would stand at the door of the British block and intercept anybody passing in a GB track suit or blazer with three questions: ‘Who are you, what do you do and where do you come from’
TEST EVENT, MOSCOW — 1979
One year out from the Games, before the infamous boycott threatened, the world’s media descended on Moscow to view the test event, the Spartakiad. The basement bar in our hotel was an evening mecca for one and all in a city short on nightlife but for those not staying there transport home after the witching hour was a nightmare.
It was solved on one occasion for Britain’s chief athletics coach Frank Dick by a journalist friend pressing wads of roubles into the fist of the driver of a 56-seater coach parked outside which persuaded him to drive Dick in solitary splendour back to his hotel. The panic an hour later when the massed personnel of a US TV company found their booked transport to their studios missing was a Pythonesque moment.
MOSCOW — 1980
Never was tighter security imposed upon the media at an Olympic Games than in Moscow. Hundreds were accommodated in a single gigantic hotel, the Rossiya, then the world’s largest with more than 3,000 rooms. Entry was permitted only to the accredited and only through one door and airport-style X-ray machines.
Cold War paranoia affected some so much they turned televisions in their rooms to the wall in case they were being filmed. All felt cut off from the real world, an impression brought home when two Dutch journalists, seeking a night on the town, asked the stony-faced doorman where they would find the nearest nightclub. ‘Helsinki,’ he replied.
SEOUL — 1987
There are times when you cannot report what you see and hear because you are in a privileged position. Chatham House rules, the lobby writers call those moments. It happened to me when I was asked to represent the British media on a British Olympic Association recce of the Games venues one year out. Travelling with us was one of Princess Anne’s police bodyguards.
The detail he demanded of bemused Koreans went far beyond the need for her security. ‘Where is the nearest toilet’ he asked at the hockey venue. Why did he need to know ‘If she asks and I don’t know, it’s me who’s in the khazi,’ he replied.
US TRIALS, INDIANAPOLIS — 1988
The US media were never fond of Carl Lewis. Too calculating, too fond of himself. But he would go out of his way for the British, recognising probably that Europe was where his bread was most thickly buttered. Three of us approached his manager, Joe Douglas, when we arrived in Indianapolis for a British-only interview with Lewis and he promised we would have it when the Trials ended.
On the final afternoon, with still nothing arranged, we sought out Joe. ‘He’s has to do a dope test first, then he’s seeing his mother and then he’s flying by a private jet to appear on the David Letterman Show. But somewhere he’ll fit you in.’ The call came mid-evening to meet him at midnight in a restaurant in a shopping mall where he would be eating with his sister Carol. He talked to us on every possible subject for two hours and then went straight to the airport.
Busted: Ben Johnson breaks from the pack during the 100m final in Seoul
SEOUL — Sept 27, 1988, 2am
The news that Ben Johnson had given a positive test reached the media village as a drinks party was winding down. That day’s work was long done and the next was a scheduled rest day in the Olympic Stadium, so the worst case scenario had seemed a nasty hangover. Instead, as lights came on across the media tower blocks and word spread, the eight-hour time difference meant a new day’s work was beginning for the same day’s paper.
The Mail’s heroine of the hour, incredibly, was Carol Thatcher, daughter of the Prime Minister and guest at the party, who tore sheets from columnist Ian Wooldridge’s typewriter after he wrote every second paragraph of a lengthy opinion piece and dictated his words to copy-takers in London against the imminent deadline. /07/24/article-0-033846DD000005DC-625_634x448.jpg” width=”634″ height=”448″ alt=”Return to the ice: Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean took bronze in Lillehammer” class=”blkBorder” />
Return to the ice: Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean took bronze in Lillehammer
ATLANTA — 1996
Security was tight, and tighter still after a bomb in downtown Atlanta. Official media buses to the main press centre involved lengthy checks through X-ray machines but the Mail team, staying in an upmarket hotel reserved for officials, found that the bigwigs’ buses took a short cut where there were no checks.
All worked splendidly for a week until we boasted of our dodge in the bar one night. A Sunday newspaper back home revealed the flaw as an example of weak security that led to the bomb blast and, surprise, surprise, the Mail team were sent to join the long queues.