Israel embraces diversion of its first Olympic medal Massacre memories put aside for moment BARCELONA '92

July 31, 1992|By Mike Downey | Mike Downey,Los Angeles Times

BARCELONA, Spain -- Women's judo. Second place in women's judo. It was not much. It was not enough. Nothing would ever be enough. But for Uri Afek, who was there on Sept. 6, 1972, when terrorists infiltrated the Olympic Village in Munich and executed 11 of his countrymen, it was a silver medal worth its weight in gold.

"We will never forget," said Afek, chief of Israel's 31-athlete delegation to the XXV Summer Olympics here, "but perhaps now Israel will have something to remember from the Olympic Games aside from murder."

Exchanging kisses and embraces in the grandstand of the Palau Blaugrana auditorium, Afek's eyes were moist as he watched Yael Arad, a 25-year-old, 136-pound aspiring dietitian from Tel Aviv, mount the victory pedestal yesterday to accept the first medal ever won by an Israeli athlete in Olympic competition -- man or woman, summer or winter.

At Afek's side was Yoram Oberkovich, president of Israel's Olympic Committee, and Oberkovich's wife, Ronet. They longed hear the "Hatikvah," an anthem that has never been played at an Olympics except in requiem 20 years ago to the honored dead.

Instead they listened to "La Marseillaise," as the flag of France was raised for Catherine Fleury, gold medalist in the half-middleweight classification. Fleury defeated Arad by the barest of margins -- on a referee's decision after a scoreless match and a split vote by two judges.

Arad saw the event from a historic perspective, as a form of vindication, even though she was 5 at the time of the Munich massacre.

"Now, after 20 years, after the murder of the 11 sport people, this is the right moment for us. . . . to avenge these murders. We owe it to the families and the people of Israel," Arad said.

After she clinched a medal and again after the awards ceremony, Arad rushed to the gallery for hugs and high-fives with enthusiastic spectators from back home.

Many of them had come to Barcelona as winners of a contest sponsored by a soft-drink company. Meni Barokas, 19, of Tel Aviv, who is about to enter the army, waved the flag while his year-older brother, Dudi, blew into a harmonica.

"We once were afraid to come to the Olympics," Meni Barokas said. "Now we come to win medals."

Arad appreciated the support.

"It was a very traumatic moment for the Israeli people, and before we came to these Games, I cannot say that I was frightened, but I did think about it. We all think about it. Maybe today is something to help us forget."

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