LOS ANGELES (Jul. 29)
In the Jewish tradition, the word “chai” means “life” and also is the word for the number 18. The number 36 would be “double chai” or “double life. ” But in the Olympics, there is a note of sadness connected with the 1936 Olympic Games at Berlin, and a greater note of tragedy at the 1972 Munich Games.
In 1936, the influence of Hitler crossed the borders of Germany and influenced negatively Jewish participation on many teams. The story of how Jewish athletes were given perfuntory opportunities to qualify for the German national team, and somehow were not chosen, is well known. It is common knowledge that other national teams in the German orbit also made it difficult for athletes of Jewish descent to participate.
In the United States, only three Jewish athletes made the team. Two of them, Marty Glickman and Sam Stoller, were dash men. They were supposed to compete in the 400-meter spring relay, and did, in the preliminaries. When time came for the finals, however, they were pulled from the quartet. The American coach said that he didn’t think that their time was fast enough to insure victory.
The truth, of course, was that the time in the semifinals was fast enough to win, although the winning time was a few fractions of seconds faster.
A bright spot for Jewish partication in major sports was reserved for Sam Balter. An outstanding athlete from UCLA and All-American in basketball, he was captain of the Universal Pictures team in 1936. Universal won the national AAU championship and represented the USA at the Olympics. Balter led the team to a sweep of all competition to win a gold medal.
Tragedy struck the Israeli team in the 1972 Olympics Early in the morning of September 5, eight terrorists slipped into the Olympic Village and invaded the Israeli quarters. There, and later at the airport in an effort to take remaining hostages out of the country, 11 Israelis and five of the terrorists were killed. The shadow of that event has remained over international sports activitives since then, requiring an extreme concentration on security for all international events, including the current Olympiad.