Where did the silver medals of the American team go to the 1972 Olympics?

Where did the silver medals of the American team go to the 1972 Olympics?

Where did the silver medals of the American team go to the 1972 Olympics?

The 1972 Munich Olympics celebrate their 50th anniversary this year. This edition was particularly marked and saddened by the attack perpetrated against Israeli athletes on 5 September. Eleven sportsmen will eventually be killed after being kidnapped for several hours.

The other highlight of these Games was the Olympic basketball final between the United States and the USSR, played on 9 September. In the midst of the Cold War, such a duel was already a highlight, but it was the controversial end of the match, and the result, that would change this match in the history of sport.

A little flashback to those famous last seconds. The Americans had been led in this final, accusing up to ten points behind. Then, thanks in particular to full-back Kevin Joyce, they returned to the game.

three seconds of eternity

At the end of the game, Doug Collins, who will later become manager of the Bulls, finds himself on the free throw line. He succeeded in both and thus gave his team the lead (50-49). There are then three seconds left to play. The Soviets play the throw-in but the game stops in the middle of the field, one second from the clock. The confusion begins, with a suspension that would have been requested by the Soviets. The referee decides to give three seconds of play, with a new lineout.

The USSR makes its throw-in and the passage that follows is not even really thrown when the buzzer sounds. It’s over, the score appears on television screens and the Americans rejoice, they are Olympic champions.

Except that the referee had allowed the Soviets three seconds of play and, during the throw-in, the clock was still set to the remaining seconds before the time-out confusion. We must therefore restart this throw-in, for the third time, with three seconds on the clock.

The throw-in turns into a very long pass, which crosses the entire field and arrives in the direction of Alexander Belov. Despite two American defenders in front of him, he takes the ball, feints and then scores! For the last time in the match, the siren is heard and the USSR is Olympic champion by winning 51-50.

It is historical, in form, with these three interminable seconds, but also in substance. It is simply the first defeat for Americans at the Olympic Games since the introduction of basketball in 1936! The anger of US players will be at the height of the earthquake.

Categorical rejection of the podium and medals

The next day, at the hotel, the players of the American team confirmed what they had been saying for a few hours: they will all refuse the silver medal.

“It was the only way to express our feelings about this whole story. We won this match. Even twice “interior Jim Brewer told The Athletic. “We all agree that this decision should be unanimous”Doug Collins continues. “Nobody would have accepted that medal. “

They kept their word, being absent from the ceremonies and leaving their place on the podium empty. For the first time in the history of the Olympic Games, a team refuses a medal in protest.

Over time, Olympic officials will do what is necessary to change their minds by multiplying letters and phone calls. But nothing helps. Full-backs Kenny Davis and Tommy Henderson will also go very far: it is written in their wills that their family members will not be able to accept medals after their death …

“The fact that they sent us these letters every year to tell us that our medals were still in Lausanne, if we wanted to get them back it was fun for me working so close to there”says Mike Bantom, a 1972 team member who worked for the NBA in New York and then in Geneva.But I still haven’t seen the point. “

What to do with the medals?

To ensure that the September 10, 1972 decision was irrevocable, winger Tom McMillen requested that the twelve medals be sent to a Chicago attorney so that no player would ever come and claim them from the Olympic International Committee (IOC). The attorney in question, Donald Gallagher, then had to sell them to US museums.

“It would thus become a sort of permanent memory. Otherwise, the 1972 team will somehow vanish into oblivion “, explains McMillen, who did not want to make any financial gains from this medal business. He was even willing to leave them in a safe in Switzerland.

What response from the IOC, in January 2022, to this request for inclusion in US museums? No because, according to IOC lawyer Mariam Mahdavi, “This would in no way respect the spirit of an Olympic medal award” and that there is “No legal basis” to satisfy this request.

The IOC even slipped a small contrast on Tom McMillen and his teammates, telling them that the Olympic body “appreciates the efforts to turn the impression left by your rejection of the award almost 50 years ago into something positive”.

Back to square one: what to do with medals, fifty years after these Olympic Games and when the players are dead or are still stuck in their 1972 decision? The main question is another, according to the survey conducted by The Athletic: first, where are these twelve medals?

Five medals in kind …

Since the IOC could ask American players to come and get the medals, it would be difficult to provide them if the 1972 silver medalists changed their minds someday. In fact, according to our colleagues, five silver medals are missing. How is it possible ?

We have to go back to the day of the medal. As we said, the Americans weren’t there. This boycott prompted the organizers to change the program since, initially, this ceremony was supposed to take place in the Olympic stadium. Without the American delegation, Olympiahalle is finally hosting the event, at the end of the men’s handball tournament.

The ceremony ends and no one, as expected, has come to claim the silver pendants, nor the official papers – a kind of diploma – confirming the results of the tournament. Two officials then leave with this loot.

“I got the diplomas, which I still have to have somewhere, but not the medals”recalled Walther Tröger in 2019, before his death, mayor of the Olympic village in 1972 and a member of the IOC. “It was Ernst Knoesel who took the medals and I think they disappeared there. “

So, twenty years after this day in September 1972, the German Olympic Committee, chaired by Willi Daume and where the officer Walther Tröger is also, proposes to award seven of the twelve medals to the IOC in Switzerland. This is why Mike Bantom received letters in the 1990s telling him that he could go to Lausanne to collect his medal.

If seven medals are kept in Switzerland, what about the other five? ” An eighth medal will be awarded by Mr. Daume, another four are still with Mr. Ernst Knoesel, the former sporting director of the organizing committee of Monaco “he had written to Tröger in 1992, in a letter in English, on German Olympic letterhead.

… including one in the hands of a former Nazi party member

The IOC confirmed to The Athletic that the five remaining medals were never awarded by Willi Daume and Ernst Knoesel. “The IOC has received seven medals from the Organizing Committee. According to our information, at the time, the other medals remained with the organizing committee. We have no further information on the other medals. “

The two protagonists are now deceased and their children have not been able to provide any concrete information on the fate of these five pieces of Olympic history.

“I didn’t know my father had one of the medals and I don’t know where he is”Kay Daume answers when asked the question. “My father had no will and he did not make a will, so I received nothing after his death. “

To make this story even more romantic, you should know that the little story of the sport is intertwined with the big story of Willi Daume. This character, who died in 1996, must be convinced by the IOC, of ​​which he was a part, to entrust the 1972 Olympic Games to Munich, 36 years after the infamous Games organized by Nazi Germany in 1936 in Berlin.

A Germany then led by Adolf Hitler and his political party, the NSDAP, of which Daume was a part. According to research published in 2010, it is also learned that he was an informant during the Second World War and that in the family factory, which he inherited when his father died, in Dortmund, there were 65 forced laborers.

Fifty years after this historic match and this incredible history of medals, the anger among the Americans has never ceased. Pain and acidity always irrigate the responses of the players.

“If I’m in a safe in Switzerland or someone’s basement, it doesn’t matter to me.”Mike Bantom concludes. “If I had won a silver medal at the Olympics, I would be very proud of it and of course I would like to have it and display it somewhere in my house, and love the fact that I have won a medal because it’s not a shame though. We just didn’t feel really lost. So I don’t care where those medals are. “

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