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A Survivor's Tale

Aug. 07, 2006
Aug. 07, 2006

Table of Contents
Aug. 7, 2006

SI Players: Life On And Off The Field
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SURFING
  • LAIRD HAMILTON WAS ONCE ONE OF ONLY A HANDFUL OF MEN WITH THE SKILL AND THE GUTS TO RIDE THE MASSIVE AND MURDEROUS WAVE KNOWN AS JAWS. BUT THEN CAME THE BOUNTY HUNTERS AND THRILL-SEEKERS, AND THE WORLD'S MOST DANGEROUS SPORT SUDDENLY GOT A WHOLE LOT SCARIER

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A Survivor's Tale

First guy to thedorm always gets the best room, right? So Dani Alon snagged the sweetsecond-floor room with the balcony. Building number 2, 31 Connollystrasse. Whowas going to mess with Israel's fencing champ?

This is an article from the Aug. 7, 2006 issue

Soon everyone wasfiling into their rooms--the shooters, the weightlifters, the wrestlers. Alon'sevent came early in the schedule and he won five of his foil bouts, beating aGerman, an Argentine, an Irishman, an Italian and a Czech. Life was beautifulat the Munich Olympics.

On the night ofSept. 4, 1972, the whole team went to see the play Fiddler on the Roof. Atintermission the athletes were invited backstage, where a joyous team picturewas taken. Alon was asleep at 4:30 a.m. when a big bang and a lot of shoutingsnapped him straight up in bed.

"What'sthat?" asked his 17-year-old roommate, fencer Yehuda Weisenstein.

"Probablysome other team celebrating," Alon said. "Go back to sleep."

Twenty minuteslater, machine-gun fire next door pierced the wall over Alon's bed. Three ofhis teammates--two shooters and a wrestler--burst into the room,ashen-faced.

Alon ran to thewindow in the front bedroom. Below, a man in a white hat was talking to twopolicemen. "We have killed two already," white hat said. "We havenine more inside. Get the Israeli government on the phone, or we killeverybody." Lying on the pavement, bleeding to death, was the wrestlingcoach, Moshe Weinberg.

Alon went backand peeked out the rear balcony door. On the balcony to the left, he could seea man with a ski mask and a machine gun. You've seen this man. He became thesymbol of Black September, the Palestinian terrorist group that snuck into theIsraeli compound in the Olympic Village and stormed buildings 1 and 3. But not2. For whatever reason, the attackers had passed over number 2.

"What are wegoing to do?" Weisenstein whispered to Alon.

The shooters fromthe team had guns and would fire bullets into the head of white hat, thenthey'd run for it, Alon and his teammates decided. But what would that do butalert the other terrorists that they had missed a building?

The second planwas to creep down the stairs to the living room, go out the sliding glassdoors, slip over the fence into the garden and sprint to safety. But they'dsurely be spotted by the masked man on the balcony. It would mean some woulddie. Maybe all.

"We will run[and zig-zag], like slalom skiers," Alon told the others.

With their shoesin their hands, the five took a gulp and--"Wait!" said one of theshooters, mad-eyed. "I must brush my teeth!" And he turned to do justthat, before they shook some sense into him.

The stairs werewooden, every creak a possible death sentence. The athletes slid the door openand rushed out. "As I jumped the fence, I was looking at the man in themask, and he was looking at me," Alon remembers. "For some reason, hedidn't shoot. He never shot."

Within hours, thenine Israeli hostages were dead, slaughtered at the airport in a futile rescueattempt featuring, ironically, German police snipers who turned out to bemerely weekend competitive shooters.

The next day Alonhad the grisly task of going through his dead teammates' rooms and collectingtheir things. "There were dolls and games everywhere that they had boughtto bring back to their families," he remembers. "That was the saddestthing--cleaning all the blood off the toys."

Alon stoppedfencing after that. Every new building terrified him. "I always think, Whohere wants to murder me?" he says. Nightmares grew long and his tempershort. He served in the Israeli air force and loaded bombs on jets during theYom Kippur wars. And never would he speak of what had happened.

Thirty yearslater, on a routine business trip to Munich, he took a cab to 31Connollystrasse. He stood in front of building number 2, watching the residentsgo in and out, and sobbed.

Finally, therelease of Steven Spielberg's brilliant film on the massacre--Munich--last yearmoved him to speak. "Watching it was like déj√† vu," he says.

The old fencer is61 now, and Israel is at war again, and he is sick to death of living by thesword. One of the Black September attackers, Jamal Al-Gashey, is still alive.And if he met him?

"I'd forgivehim," Alon says. "He was so young. He was a soldier. I have been asoldier too. We have to make peace. All this bloodshed only leads to morebloodshed."

This weekend Alonwill be in Phoenix, opening another international athletic event--the 2006Maccabi Games.

He will stay in ahotel.

> If you havea comment for Rick Reilly, send it to reilly@siletters.com.

RIFFS of REILLY

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"As I jumped the fence, I was looking at the manin the mask, and he was looking at me," Alon says. "For some reason hedidn't shoot. He never shot."
PHOTOPETER READ MILLER