Tue | Sep 26, 2017

Remembering Munich ... History-making Jamaican Olympic diver looks back at German memories

Published:Wednesday | April 27, 2016 | 4:00 AMAndre Lowe
Betsy Sharpe

In 1966, a Gleaner article declared:

"Jamaicans are naturally athletic and agile people, and we could produce divers of world class if more attention was paid to this aspect of swimming."

This bold proclamation was made just after 10 year-old Betsy Sullivan had represented Jamaica in 3m diving competition at the 1966 Commonwealth Games held in Kingston.

" ... at that age you kind of know no fear. Whatever is there to do you just do it. Life is just for living at that age, you're enjoying yourself and having a great time, totally oblivious to the fact I had qualified to a games at age 10 and the magnitude of what that meant. I was just an average 10 year-old playing with my friends, having a good time," she remembered. "I wasn't there to win, I didn't have any expectations at that age, it was just a good experience and I really enjoyed it."

Six years down the road, the then - teenager, Sullivan - now Betsy Sharpe, became the first Jamaican to qualify for the Olympics in the diving event.

 

MUNICH 1972

 

It will become the scene of both her most fulfilling and horrific experiences, but for the Olympian, it was the moment that defined her for the rest of her life.

"That one was the pinnacle, because once you are an Olympian, you will always be an Olympian. That is something no one can ever take away from you. I was proud to represent my country," said Sharpe during a recent chat with The Gleaner.

A great accomplishment for a bright-eyed 16 year-old; still, the Munich Olympics, which were ironically marketed as 'The Happy Games', will be mostly remembered for the killing of 11 Israeli athletes and coaches by a group of Palestinian terrorists who had taken them hostage.

Sharpe reminisced on the scenes in the Athletes Village and how that incident not only changed the mood of the Games, but also her own perspective.

"I remember probably more than I want to remember from it. We could see the terrorist standing outside on the balcony with his gun because of the way the village was set out," she shared.

"The mood of the Games changed. The last time it was held in Germany, it was held in Berlin, and the whole thing with Jesse Owens and (Adolf) Hitler, and so Germany was going out of their way to try and make this a comfortable, friendly games, and that's how we felt about it."

The extra security detail and the jubilant reactions to the false news that the hostages had been freed are all still fresh in her mind.

"I was going through the line at breakfast and I had a smile on my face and the lady that was serving me breakfast she said 'You don't know do you? Nobody knows.'

"And I said, 'Know what?'

And she said, 'They were all killed."

What didn't die for Sharpe, is the resolve that she developed from that experience.

"Its not something that I usually tell people. I don't believe in tooting my own horn from that point of view. There is something inside of me that no one can take away from me; I know what my accomplishments are, I just feel like I can hold myself up so high from the experience of being an Olympian, and I always have that self confidence and that's what reaching that level of sports gives you - you know who you are," she beamed.

This summer, she will have company in the chronicles of Jamaican diving history with Yona Knight-Wisdom set to carve his name beside hers as Jamaican diving Olympian after his qualification to the Rio Olympic Games.