“They’re All Gone”

Posted: 5 September by Brett Hoover in Alumni, Columbia
Tags: ,

As you might imagine, summertime is down time in college athletics. A time to catch one’s breath and get caught up with all the record keeping of the previous nine months. But the summer of 2004 was a little different in the back offices of the Ivy League office. It was unusually busy.

In addition to our typical summer duties, we decided that we had enough time and enough staff to do something outlandish. We set out to research and document every Ivy Leaguer who had competed in the Olympic Games. And it would be no small task.

For some schools we had a pretty good list from which to begin, but we had to verify each name, pull out those who didn’t belong and add those who did. So Eddy Lentz, Tyson Hubbard, Jay Bavishi, Ben Samara, Chanel Latimer and myself went to work. First up, defining the Ivy League Olympian.

We quickly decided that coaches, faculty and staff wouldn’t count. Then we began to weed out graduate students, because we felt it would be impossible to track. So the definition was narrowed to this: To be an Ivy Olympian, you had to have gone to the school as an undergraduate. You didn’t have to compete as an intercollegiate athlete. In fact, your Olympic experience could have come as a high schooler or after you had graduated. Just attended an Ivy school as an undergraduate and compete in the Games at some point.

While that cut a number of people from the rolls, we were still able to find more than 800 such athletes, including more than 50 who would compete in the Athens Games that summer.

But one of the names we had to leave off the list was David Berger, a weightlifter who had earned both master’s and law degrees from Columbia University, but had gone to Tulane University as an undergraduate, collecting his psychology degree in 1966.

While he was enrolled at Columbia, the Cleveland native had an impressive showing at the U.S. Olympic Trials in 1968. The following year he won the middleweight division at both the U.S. Junior National Championships and the Maccabiah Games. Note that the Junior National Championships was not related to age, but a contest for athletes who had never claimed a national title.

A dual U.S.-Israeli citizen, Berger joined a sports club in Tel Aviv and began preparing to practice law in Israel. He was scheduled to begin Israeli military service after the 1972 Munich Games, where he had on a spot as a weightlifter.

He competed on Sept. 2, 1972, but was eliminated in an early round. He hadn’t expected to win a medal, instead considered participating in the ideals of peace and brotherhood to be his goal.

Thirty-eight years ago today, Palestinian terrorists broke into the Olympic Village in Munich and took the Israeli team members — Berger included — hostage. Wrestling Coach Moshe Weinberg was murdered in the Village takeover. Yale grad and Olympic champion Frank Shorter was awakened by the initial gunfire as he slept on a balcony about a football field away. Read his account here.

The remaining hostages were taken to the Furstenfeldbruck airbase outside of Munich, where German officials horribly botched the rescue attempt. ABC’s Jim McKay would later write, “I realized in the end, I am going to be the person who is going to tell David Berger’s family whether he is alive or dead.”

He would do it with three famous words — “They’re all gone.”

But never forgotten.

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