I was torpid, just out of bed, ready to jog on a humid, glaring day. The Olympic Village gate was locked. A guard, dressed in silly turquoise, said, "There have been shootings in the night. You cannot leave."
I started back to my room. On the way I met my teammate, hammer thrower George Frenn, whose parents were born in Lebanon. He told me Arab terrorists had broken into the Israeli quarters, shot two people and taken others hostage. George was seething. "I hate lunatics," he said.
I lived in an apartment on the fifth floor of the U.S. building with Frank Shorter, Steve Savage, Jon Anderson and Dave Wottle, all middle-or long-distance runners. Frank was on our terrace, staring at police lines, ambulances and newsmen assembled under cover near the Israeli dorm, 150 yards away.
"I haven't felt this way since Kennedy was killed," he said. "Imagine those poor guys over there. Every five minutes a psycho with a machine gun says, 'Let's kill 'em now,' and someone else says, 'No, let's wait a while.' How long could you stand that?"
We took turns on the terrace, plucking seeds from a fennel plant there and grinding them in our palms. Below, people played chess or Ping-Pong. The trading of Olympic pins continued. Athletes sunbathed by the reflecting pool. It seemed inappropriate, but what was one supposed to do? The scratchy, singsong notes of European police sirens sounded incessantly. Rumors leaped and died. There were 26 hostages. There were seven. The terrorists were killing a man every two hours. They were on the verge of surrender.
At 3:30 p.m. I phoned a friend in the press village.
"Have you heard?" he asked. "The Games are stopped."
"Stopped? You mean postponed or canceled?"
"Postponed for now. But they say it may be impossible to start them again."
I went back to the room, where my wife Bobbie was waiting, and I wept. I experienced level after level of grief: for my own event, the marathon, those years of preparation now useless; for the dead and doomed Israelis; and for the violated sanctuary of the Games.