50 Years after Munich: What Frank Shorter Means to Running

On September 10, 1972, 50 years ago this Saturday, Frank Shorter won the Olympic Marathon in Munich. His compelling victory contributed to the U.S. and then global running booms. 

But I don’t remember and revere Shorter for his gold medal as much as for the words he spoke to Kenny Moore about why they should run in Munich. The Marathon took place just 5 days after the massacre of Israeli Olympic athletes. “We have to not let this detract from our performance,” Shorter said. “Because that’s what they want.”

These words reflect and reinforce the healing power of running. We have needed similar words on too many occasions since Munich--at the 2001 NYC Marathon post 9-11;  when Ryan Shay died in the 2008 Olympic Marathon Trials; during and after Hurricane Sandy and its devastating impact on New York City and its canceled marathon; and in our return to running events after Covid.

And especially, particularly, most emotionally of all, in our reclaimiing of the 2014 Boston Marathon after the bombings, deaths, and maimings of 2013. We humans face frighteningly random and uncontrollable events, from the immense natural forces around us, and too often from ourselves. (I’m thinking at this moment of the  tragic murder of Eliza Fletcher in Memphis.)

And yet we struggle back. We remain resilient. We return to running.

Because it is all we can do. And everything we must do. In 1972, Frank Shorter gave us the performance and words that still set the standard: “We have to not let this detract ….”

That’s why I’ll be remembering and honoring Shorter on Saturday--50 years after the Munich Olympics but as relevant as ever.