Valeri Borsow wins Olympic gold in Munich in 1972

Valeri Borsow wins Olympic gold in Munich in 1972
Valeri Borsow wins Olympic gold in Munich in 1972

Ein America’s Cold War nightmare is the fear of being left behind by the communists. They were faster in space: the first satellite in 1957, the first cosmonaut in 1961. America only halfway evened the game with the moon landing in 1969.

But now, three years later in Munich, the next shock: “The Fastest Human is a Commie”. This is how the legendary sports journalist Red Smith captions his column in the “New York Times”. The man on the moon may be American. The fastest in the world is a communist. Valeriy Borzov has the reputation of being a “human rocket”, a scientifically optimized “test-tube athlete”.

The reality is sometimes not so high-tech. At first, his trainer let him sprint with a roll of paper between his teeth. It shouldn’t have been bitten at the finish line. “It helped me develop the most important skill for a sprinter: the ability to relax.”

“No feelings? That was tactics”

But to the outside world, Borsow, who after his career became the last sports minister in the Soviet Union and first in Ukraine, consciously served the Western clichés that existed at the time. “The fact that I never showed any emotion on my face was a tactic. It allowed journalists to portray me as a robot.”

He doesn’t have to beat the Americans, they’re beating themselves. Eddie Hart and Rey Robinson miss their intermediate heats because their coach has an outdated schedule. Hart locks himself in and “cries in the shower for an hour and a half.” Borsow easily wins the 100-meter final and thinks at the finish: “Is it that easy to win Olympic gold?” Sometimes yes.

The Norwegian Knut Knudsen, who actually came to Munich for the road race and then also registered for the track race, caught up with the German favorite Hans Lutz in the semifinals of the 4000 meter pursuit and almost effortlessly won the final as well. The Japanese Mitsuo Tsukahara, who became Olympic champion on the horizontal bar with the “moon somersault” he invented on the dismount, seems almost weightless. It is a double somersault backwards with a twist, which is now known in many variations as “Tsukahara”.

Up to now they have been cheerful games, carefree, weightless. But not for everyone, not even for every winner. Polish shooter Józef Zapedzki wins the gold medal with the rapid-fire pistol. But he doesn’t celebrate. He drives to the former Dachau concentration camp near Munich. It is the place where his father was murdered shortly before liberation in 1945.

The article is in German

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