Ahen Manfred Letzerich entered the tartan track of the Munich Olympic Stadium on August 26, 1972 with the group of West German delegations, he had no idea of the dramatic events that he had to witness ten days later. The obstacle runner from Wiesbaden – who had just become a father for the second time – was one of the veterans of his sport at the time. It is his third and last Olympic Games.
Nevertheless, he experienced the opening ceremony as “very emotional”. He is impressed by the colorful suits of the athletes, the medley of the big band around jazz musician Kurt Edelhagen, the newly completed stadium with its futuristic tent roof and the Bavarian Schuhplattler: "There was cheerfulness and joie de vivre."
The hip hurts
On his parade discipline 3000 meters obstacle, for which he holds the all-German record, Letzerich has to Munich give up due to a foot injury. Over 10,000 meters it is only enough for a disappointing penultimate place in the heat, the hip causes problems. After Tokyo in 1964 and Mexico City in 1968, the seven-time German champion again missed out on medals, but said: "Qualifying for the Olympics a third time at the age of thirty was something."
As a spectator, he witnesses how the German track and field athletes clear up after his elimination: With three medals, Heide Rosendahl became the face of the selection, in the Bahnradvier the West German riders prevail against the GDR quartet. At the end there is a remarkable fourth place in the track and field medal table.
witness to the assassination
On the morning of September 5th, the eleventh day of the Games, the much-vaunted cheerfulness came to an abrupt end: Palestinian terrorists break into the quarters of the Israeli delegation and take hostages. In the end, eleven Israelis die, five terrorists and one policeman. Manfred Letzerich witnesses from his balcony how the bound hostages board two helicopters at gunpoint together with their tormentors.
A sight he will not forget. "If I had been a marksman, I could have shot at the terrorists," he says thoughtfully fifty years later. One notices Letzerich that the events of that time are eating away at him.
"It was very bad"
The report of the death of all eleven hostages only reached the public with a delay and after a false report about the alleged liberation of nine people. Letzerich remembers: “It was very bad. None of us expected it to turn out like this at the military airport in Fürstenfeldbruck.”
Even then, the athlete felt that IOC President Avery Brundage's decision to continue the games the next day was the right one: "What would have been the point of canceling it?" he asks today.
achievements and honors
Munich 1972 marked the last of many international competitions for the runner: he completed 38 international competitions – those competitions between two countries that were popular until the 1990s but have now been replaced by European Championships or competitions from other associations.
In 1966 he broke the European record over 20,000 meters and the German record over 3000 meters obstacle, before the 1972 Olympics also the German record over 10,000 meters. With success comes honors: In 1970, he was the first athlete ever to receive the highest award from the Hessian Athletics Association, the sports badge of the State of Hesse. In his homeland, too, people are proud that he has carried the name "Wiesbaden" out into the wide world, Letzerich is allowed to sign the city's golden book.
Career highlight in Tokyo
The athlete experienced the emotional high point of his career eight years before and 500 kilometers north of Munich: In August 1964, qualifying competitions for the Tokyo Games were held in the Berlin Olympic Stadium. With Letzerich, eight runners from East and West apply for the three starting places for the 5000 meters.
It will be the last time that FRG and GDR hide their system competition for two weeks to form an all-German team. Cheered on by 50,000 spectators and his trainer Olaf Lawrenz, Letzerich surprisingly came second, fulfilled his dream of the Olympics for the first time and was allowed to take the 6,000 Deutschmark expensive flight to unknown Japan.
"My life was different"
At the time, the athlete worked as a lathe operator for a metal company in Schierstein and earned 470 Deutschmarks a month. He grows up with two sisters. When the father dies, he is only twelve. Letzerich earns his pocket money as a ball boy on the tennis courts in the Nerotal.
At the age of 16 he joined the Eintracht Wiesbaden sports club, a decision with consequences: "Without sport, my life would have been different. I became more self-confident, traveled to distant countries and, most importantly, met my wife Erika.” The sprinter and the steeplechase runner met in 1966 at the German Athletics Championships in Hanover. The couple now lives in the Wiesbaden district of Hessloch and has three grandchildren.
The now 80-year-old remains true to running even after the end of his career. As a trainer at the German Athletics Association, he has three runners of international standing under his wing, Michael Karst, Gert Frahmcke and Willi Maier, whom he accompanies to the 1976 Games in Montreal.
Manfred Letzerich has walked around 140,000 kilometers to date, almost four times around the world. He keeps fit by walking, cycling and has discovered his passion for painting. He advises the younger generation: "Everyone should do competitive sports at least once, no matter how far they get with their performance. Because every human being has more power than he thinks.”