|Saturday, August 10
Updated: September 4, 2:05 AM ET
Thirty years later, athletes try not to 'live in fear'
MUNICH, Germany -- Israeli athletes know they are potential targets for terrorism wherever they travel in the world.
They are raised to endure their fear, and this camaraderie was a comfort to several athletes who slept at the site of one of the most horrific attacks against their country.
Thirty years after 11 Israeli athletes and coaches were killed by Palestinian terrorists at the Olympic Games in Munich, Israel's entire contingent at the European track and field championships are staying at the same housing complex where their countrymen were taken hostage in 1972.
The Israelis say it was an important symbolic gesture for them to be here.
"You feel shivers when you close your eyes and think about the terrible things that happened,'' said distance runner Nili Abramski. "But we had to come and show that even the most terrible things won't stop us.''
Abramski said the massacre was on her mind as soon as she learned the championships would be held in Munich. The dark chapter in the city's history only made her want to compete even more. Seventeen athletes qualified for the championships, the most for Israel in the 18-year history of the meet.
"We wanted to show that we are even stronger -- that we never give up,'' she said. "We know we are targets everywhere we go, but you can't live in fear.''
Pole vaulter Alex Averbukh made the athletes' return a triumphant one by winning the gold medal, Israel's first-ever medal at the championships. He dedicated it to his late father and to the people of Israel.
On the night of Sept. 5, 1972, a group of armed Palestinians entered an Olympic Village apartment house, killing two Israeli athletes and holding the others hostage in an effort to gain the freedom of 200 Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.
During a botched rescue attempt that followed a 20-hour standoff at an airfield near Munich, the Palestinians killed the remaining nine Israeli athletes and coaches. Five terrorists and a German policeman also died in the firefight.
For the first time since the Munich Games, the housing built for the Olympians is being used by athletes, including all 17 Israelis.
Normally a student dormitory, the worn-out village was given a facelift, the students were temporarily moved out, and the athletes were brought in for the duration of this week's championships. More than 1,000 armed police are providing security.
"It was a bit scary at the beginning, but the security is unbelievable,'' Abramski said. "The Germans are taking no chances. It's the best security I saw in my life.''
During her 10,000-meter race, Abramski ran with ''72'' on one palm and ''11'' on the other, painted in blue lipstick. Her nails are painted blue and white, the colors of the Israeli flag.
Levy Psavkin, chief of the Israeli delegation, said the athletes have been shown exceptional hospitality, but they will never forget that bleak day in 1972.
"I have a bad feeling to be in Germany; my whole family perished in the Holocaust,'' Psavkin said. "Munich is nothing compared to what happened before.''
Jack Cohen, general secretary of the Israeli athletics federation, said the team never considered staying elsewhere.
"We wanted to be here to participate like any other country, and to live with all other teams,'' Cohen said. "At the beginning, it was difficult to come after 30 years, and to remember and go through Connolly Street and past the memorial. We are trying to focus on the championship. But it's not easy not to get distracted.''
A large stone tablet, often adorned with fresh flowers, marks the site of the abduction at Connollystrasse 31. The victims' names are written on the tablet in German and Hebrew, with the words "In honor of their memory.''
"They should also write it in English so that everyone knows why it is there,'' Abramski said.
On Sunday, the Israeli team will be joined by the families of the 1972 victims in a service at the site of the memorial.