Wednesday, 8 August 2012

The Greatest Olympic Controversy of All-Time? USA vs USSR - Munich, 1972

It's a wonderful, unprecedented Olympic fortnight for Team GB. But more of that at the close of the Games in a few days time.

What it has done has reminded me of the of the greatest controversies in the history of the Summer Games. It's odd, because whilst I have attended a live Basketball game in my life and enjoyed the frenetic nature of the chase, it is not a sport that I have necessarily warmed too.

Perhaps the American domination of the game that in fairness, they invented in the 1890s, plays a part in my relative ambivalence towards it.

But as a child, I vividly recall watching (time and again I may add) a 'Sporting Disasters' video hosted by if I remember correctly Nick Hancock (yes, it was the 1990s). I am therefore a conoisseur of the heartache and the misery in sport.

Doug Sanders missing a 3ft putt to win the Open in 1970? Gordon Smith missing a guilt edged 1-on-1 with Manchester United Goalkeeper Gary Bailey to win the FA Cup for Brighton? Don Fox's last-gasp missed conversion in the 1968 challenge cup final for Wakefield against Leeds? Yes, I've seen them all and many more. I'm not a sporting nut for nothing you know.

But the 1972 Olympic Basketball Final in Munich? It was an incredible drama that ended in the Americans losing their 63-game winning streak that stretched back to the first medalled Basketball competition at the Olympics in Berlin, 1936.

This Wikipedia article states in cold black and white the unravelling drama as the USSR scored a highly dubious last second basket to beat their Cold War foes 51-50. It resulted in the American team contesting the result but to no avail and as a result, they became the first ever Olympians to refuse to collect their medals.

As a result, their Silver medals have apparently to this day been in the possession of the IOC, waiting to be collected - or at least that's what I thought until I watched this fascinating American documentary that marked the 20th anniversary during the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.

It is a biased piece that only speaks to the American side of the debate and not their Russian counterparts but taking that away, it nevertheless told an incredible moment of sporting drama, sporting theatre that when mixed into the political tensions of the age, surely made it one of the, if not the greatest Olympic controversy of all-time.

We've not seen anything near that kind of anger in London 2012 and that is to be welcomed but still, looking back, it was a British man, the Secretary-General of FIBA William Jones who played a central role in the unfolding drama by coming out of the stands and ordering the officials to put 3 seconds back on the clock even though he later conceded that he had no authority to make such a ruling during a game.

You really couldn't have made it up!

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