Alastair Aitken
Alastair Aitken
Alastair Aitken's
Interviews and

Memories of Munich 1972 (January 2019)

Although the majority of interviews I conducted, after Munich were in Mel Wattman’s Athletics Weekly I did have one long  one in the Athletics Arena Olympic report of 1972 with John Akki-Bua. The Editor of Athletics Arena was Charley Elliott, who wrote the Editorial, which I felt I must quote here “Undoubtedly, the XXth Olympiad will go down in history as ‘The Unfortunate Games’. The giant festival of sport was overshadowed by the horrible terrorist murder of eleven Israeli sportsmen – despite elaborate security precautions on the part of the organisers.”

I did have good memories of the Munich Olympics as, I spent some time with my great friend Peter Hildreth, the BBC radio commentator & Sunday Telegraph athletics correspondent. as well as having been an Olympic hurdler.
I did go down to the  Black Forest and Salzburg, when I was lodging in Munich and, remember the revolving cukoo clock in the main square in Munich and, having a plentiful supply of good sausages and beautiful frothy local beer in the Hofbrauheus..

Now for the athletics  
The powerfully built Russian Valyeriy Borzov won the 100/200 in 10.14 & 20.00 respectively. The silver medals went to the Americans Robert Taylor & Larry Black. However, Rey Robinson & Eddie Hart of the USA completely missed the start of the semi-finals of the 100m.. Certainly Eddie Hart, who anchored the American sprint team to a clear victory, might have made things a lot different, if he had got the starting times right.
Vince Mathews, one of the World record 4 x 400 team in Mexico won the 400 for USA in 44.6.

The 800 Final was one of the most thrilling races of the Games.
The first six were 1 Dave Wottle (USA) 1:45.86; 2 Yevgeniy Arzhasnov (Sov) 1.45.89; 3 Mike Boit (Kenya) 1:46.01; 4 Franz Joseph-Kemper (WG) 1:46.50; 5 Andy Carter (GB) 1:46.55 (At 200m Robert Ouko led at 400 Boit; 600 Arzhanov)

Dave Wottle and his training. He started running in his freshman year and he ran for Bowling Green “Monday is a distance day when we do mile and 2 mile repeats. Tuesday is a speed day; we’ll do 44o stuff. Wednesday –A pace day; we will do various things 330 to 660s .Thursday we start slackening off—Friday we slacken off. Saturday we have a race”
Who were his dangers in the Olympic final?
“Everybody was my big danger because I did not feel that good coming down the stretch. I was more or less just trying to get a medal 100 metres out. With 50 metres to go I was trying to get  2nd place, trying to pass the Kenyans; then 20 metres from the finish I saw Arzhanov was slowing or tightening up so, I tried for the win. I knew it was going to be close.”
In third place was Mike Boit “ Ouko and I were boxed in by Arzhanov when he went to the front. I had some energy  and could have gone ahead of Ouko but I did not want to because then he would have had to run round everybody .I really got very annoyed as I saw my chances slipping away and when I came into the straight I started to pull out again. I was getting closer and closer. I thought I had beaten Arzhanov and I was looking at Wottle, to see if I could beat him. It was a very tight finish!”
  In the 1500 seni-final, that famous Wottle kick did not quite work out ‘The head waiter’ moved swiftly from last but just missed qualifying for the final.

The 1500 final was won by Pekka Vasala of Finland in 3:36.33, with the 3k steeplechase winner Kip Keino of Kenya running 3:36.81 and Rod Dixon of New Zealand, who, quite a few years later won the New York marathon. He was third in 3:37.46; 4th Mike Boit 3:38. 41); 5 Brendan Foster (GB) in 3:39.02..
Rod’s take on the race “I ran 3:40 in my heat to come first equal with Keino,
Then I won the semi final against Vasala... Came the final, Keino kicked out with two laps to go and put in that 55 second lap which did so much damage to everybody but I felt that from 450 to 150, when both Keino and Vasala really put the pressure on, that  in fact I eased. I knew I had never run that fast at that time of the race so I almost gave away the prospect of chasing them and Boit then went past me on the turn and I thought ‘ right, I must start kicking for home.’ I accelerated past Boit so fast and, in fact was closing on Keino at the finish. Rod thought with more experience (said in 1976) ‘I could possibly have done better.”

The 5000 & 10,000 were won by Lasse Viren of Finland.
10,000 the first three were Lasse Viren in 27:38,4, 2 Emiel Puttemans of Belgium 27:39.6 3 Miruts Yifter (Ethiopia) 27:41.0 The next three were 4 Mariano Haro of Spain, 5 Frank Shorter (The marathon winner from USA 27:51, 4 and Dave Bedford the future World record holder 6th of the 14 finishers .
Viren’s dangers and his thoughts on the final, which he fell over in!
“The most dangerous was Puttemans, Haro a bit, and there was someone else. I can’t remember who now’
 ‘In the final I had a good feeling, everything was going well. The main thing for me was to be in the leading group. When I fell over I did not know what had happened. I realised somebody was falling over me and I thought the main thing was not to be spiked so, that I could continue. I do not remember anything of what actually happened; I just wanted to continue. I caught the others then went into the lead.. Two laps from the end I had the feeling I might win,”
5000-First six 1 Lsse Viren 13;26.4 or; 2 Mohammed Gammoudi (Tunisia) 13:27,4;
3 Ian Stewart (GB) 13:27.6; 4 Steve Prefontaine(USA) 13:28.4; 5 Emiel Puttemans 13:30.8 6 Harald Norpoth (WG) 13:32.6.
“Puttemans, Stewart & McCafferty were dangers I thought.
I had planned after 3000m I would lead,  then I would try to run fast but  all the other runners were around me so I did not have the chance to lead and I had to wait, So, it was with three laps left I started to pass the other runners and make for the lead position. Prefontaine was leading. I knew all the time they were there. I knew Prefontaine was going to run very fast but it did not work because I just thought it was Personating just talking.’

Often, outside the Olympics he did not win races. what was his take on that?
‘I like to run even though I won’t get along very well. I like to race anyway, I don’t care if I don’t win every time”
Third was Ian Stewart “With 800 to go I was on Prefontaine. Viren came past with Gammodi on the back of him and I could not get out. I stepped out to get behind Gammoudi  with 600 to go and just to get round Prefontaine and, as I tried to get  round him, Prefontaine came out sideways and knocked me almost into the third lane. I lost a hell of a lot of ground there -10 to 15 yards. I pulled myself together. (The next lap went by in 59 seconds) They were still going away a bit’
“With 200 to go I did not think I was going to get anything and when I came off the bend I still did not think I was going to get a medal. 10 yards from the line I went past Prefontaine and I was 0.8 of seconds on him when I crossed the line. I would like to have had a watch on my last 100 metres.”

That Great and smooth high hurdler Renaldo Nehemiah the World Cup winner in 1979 and for four years was ranked No 1 high hurdler. He talked about the Olympic Champion of `1972 ROD MILBURN
“It was probably Rod Milburn who influenced me at the start, as he was about my height then of 5’9-5’10. I parted my hair down the middle to resemble a Rod Milburn and we ere both double arm thrusters (I am not anymore) we were both sprinter types. We were aggressive and powerful hurdlers and I am a consistent hurdler. I like to be able to execute well yet still relax while I am running, not feel like I am straining.”
7th of September 1972 High hurdlers final.
First six in that were 1 Rod Milburn (USA)  13.24 World record; 2 Guy Drut (France who went on to win in 1976) He ran 13:34; 3rd Tom Hill (USA) 13:48; 4 Willie Davenport, the 1968 Olympic Champion 13:50; 5 Frank Siebeck (EG) 13:50 and 6 Leszek Wodzynski (Poland) 13.72.
The Race: Rod comes in
“ Looking back at 1972  it was a very good year and a not so good year. The reason why it was not so good was the fact that I got third in the Olympic trials-that was one of the most critical things that happened to me. I don’t know the reason why I only managed to get third but things appeared just not to be working right, so I barely made the Olympic team. When I got to the Games I said ‘ Put everything behind you and start again; work well and be much more conscious of what is going on’ .I did not know if I took the race for granted in the trials or if it was just t hat  my mind was not working in the right direction  but when I got to the games in Munich I was able to relax and really get into the race, actually get a feel for the competitors, how they were running in trial heats, and so it gave me a pretty good base.
  ‘ When I got into the blocks in the final I can remember it was a very good evening, the  temperature was about 75f, the stands were packed solid, which was very good. I could just feel the electricity; it was a great feeling getting out thee before 100,000 plus people and the millions that were looking on television, so that in itself was a great support. I felt almost weightless. Into the st arting blocks I went. The only thing I was actually focusing on was the gun sound. When I hear that sound it is all spontaneous. I think I had a very superb start. We were together for the first three hurdles, then that was where I started  to make some little moves. I think by the sixth hurdle I made a tremendous gap. To my left I  had seen Willie Davenport up until that point;  I had actually seen him and almost heard him. Going down into the seventh and eighth hurdle I looked to my right and I could see Guy Drut vividly, coming through very strongly so, at that point the main thing was to just concentrate and relax—because if I hit a hurdle from the 7th to 10th I would have been in serious trouble with Guy Drut for sure, because he was the one coming very strongly for t he second place”
Guy Drut  “I won the European Indoor title, and after in 1972 I went to the United Sates and fell, dislocating my toe. I had to stop for a month in June and after  I came on slwoly.
The three weeks before the games , I came back and achieved second place at the Games.
Rod comes in here “After my Olympic win I predicted Guy would win the next Olympic Final in 1976 and it was  very good time 13.3 “
400 Hudels Final
1 John Akii-Bua (Uganda) 47.82 World Record; 2 Ralph Mann (USA) 48.51; 3 David Hemery (GB) 48.52; 4 Jim Seymour (USA) 48.64; 5 Rainer Schubert (WG) 49.65; 6 Yevegeniy Gavrilendko (SOV) 49.66=Stros Tziortzis (Greece) 49.66 and 8 Yuriy zorin (Sove) 50.25.

Akii-Bua “ I was drawn in the inside lane (then Gavrilenko, Zorin, Seymour, Hemery, and Mann. In both the heat and semi-final I had been drawn in lane 2 and felt sure that I wold be in one of the outer lanes in the final, so it came as a surprise to be given lane 1’ At least’ I thought, I will be able to watch them all and see when they make their moves’ We had all run about the same time, but I guessed that I was probably the fastest flat runner. ‘There won’t be all that far up on me at the half way mark’ I thought. ‘Maybe two or three strides, so I was feeling quite confident of my chances I had to consentrate  on running my own race in the inside lane. If I lost concentration for a split-second then it could all go wrong. But I had to check the positions when I got to the fourth hurdle. If I looked before then, say on the bend I would surley lose concentration. At touch down at the fourth hurdle I took that quick look ;Hemery was a few inches ahead at touch down
Right. Now to push the pace a bit more so that I can change to 14 strdes (from 13)  at  the fifth) But why not go on tn at 13’s to the sixth. All this was going through my mind as I raced but I got excited right in the middle , thinking of going faster, I cut down  fom 13 to 14 strides at the fifth, really faste and t hat was where I knew Hemery had got the gold; at least. I watched him go. He pulled me out of  my race, and for that split second I just raced, forgetting my concentration. I raced to try and catch him if I could
‘Ralph Mann had beeen caught at the at the fifth hurdle by Hemery. and passed him. Because I had changed my stride pattern from the fifth Hemery seemed to be building up speed from the next hurdle. ‘He’s broken away’ He has gone for the finish’ I thought, so, I have got to go  too. Over the eighth hurdle we were level and my legs were moving faster  than his, so i kept it going, hitting the straight very fast. I wanted to take the 10th hurdle with my right leg .and that was just what happened, My strides from t he 9th to the 10th felt very comfortable. I did not  feel I was struggling. I felt my body leaning towards the tape. I kept running hard right past the finish too.”
A highly respected hurdling coach World wide for sometime has been Malcolm Arnold and he was Akki Buas coach “ I think the outstanding feature, Alastair, was  the 3-10 ths inside the World record and still coming through strongly at  the end. A year ago  (1971) we said that 47.7 would be the time that would win the race”
To David Hemery “Was it  a surprise to David, Akii coming through so strongly?
“ I think it surprised everybody, and probably Akii himself!That was another factor—I went too fast too soon in Munich between hurdlesa two and three whch was the beginning of the back straight. I accelerated extremely hard and I paid for it when I came into the home straight I was running flat out and I think the video recorder, that can stop the aaction and the timing, shows I was running 20.5 pace for 200. As my best 200 is 21.8 it was not surprising that I paid for it in the home straight. But. As you mentioned Akii saw me ahead and again as I was maing  a bit of a ssurge about the sixth hurdle and for a split second he must have said have said their goes  the  gold. Then he came back and that is what really makes a champion, the fact that he did not give up perhaps when many people would let that little statement of ‘there it goes’ be the end., He,,as you said, neglected to look at the hurdles and just ran flat out from there to the tape.”

OF course there were other noteworthy performances at the Munich Games but there were so many/ Victor Sanyeyev of  the Soviet union winning the triple long jump with`17.35, as he had won so many Olympic golds in his time .Three golds and a silver in fact. Wolfgang Nordwicg of East Germany with his win in in the pole in an Olympic pole vault record of 5.50 one ahead of that charimatic vaulter Bob Seagren of the USA who did 5.40
And the West German Kluas Wolferman’s, Olympic javelin record of 90.48 was followed by one of the World’ Greatest,  Janis Lusis of the Soviet Union who threw 90.46.’
      Renate Stecher of East Germany won the womens 100/200 in in 11.07/22.40 both from Australian Relene Boyle 11.23/22.45.
Another Ausrdalian Charlene Rendina won  the 400 in an Olympic record of 51.94. Hildegard Falck of West Germany won the 800 in an Olympic recrd of 1:58.55,
The Soviet’s Lyudmia Bragina (SOV) did a World record of 4:01.4 for the 1500.
For Great Brtain the excitemnt came when Mary Peters did 4801 for a World record pentathlon with Heide Rosendahl of West Germany second with 4791.
Mary Elizabeth Peters was from Antrim, Belfast.  Born 6th of July 1939.
The cheerful lady won the shot and pentathlon in the 1970 Commonwealth Games

Alastair Aitken

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