The long march of Israel’s champion walker

  • AFP, Omer, Isreal
  • |
  • Updated: Jun 15, 2012 01:27 IST

To some, Israeli race walker Shaul Ladany is the ultimate survivor -- a sporting champion who escaped a Nazi concentration camp and survived the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre, 40 years ago.

Today, Ladany lives in Omer where his house is marked by a wire sculpture of a man in mid-stride that is affixed to the outside of his home. This year, Ladany turned 76, but he has hardly slowed down. He celebrated the same way he does every birthday — by walking his new age in kilometres.

Ladany's athletic history would be impressive under any circumstances.

He began his Olympic career in Mexico in 1968, and still holds the world record in the 50-mile (80-kilometre) category which he won in 1972, completing the distance in seven hours, 23 minutes and 50 seconds.

And six years ago, he clinched the world record in the 100-mile category for the over-70s.

But his success is all the more astonishing in light of the tragedy and hardship he has overcome, surviving first the Holocaust and then the 1972 Munich Games massacre, which left 11 members of the Israeli Olympic team dead — five athletes, four trainers and two referees.

“It was about 2:30 in the morning when I was woken up and warned that Arab terrorists were inside the Olympic village,” says Ladany, who managed to escape through his bedroom window.

“I have often lived through traumatic experiences,” Ladany said, recalling the bombing of his home by the Luftwaffe in April 1941 in Belgrade, his hometown in then Yugoslavia.

He was later rounded up with his parents in Budapest by the Nazis and shipped to the a concentration camp. But six months later, he and his parents made it onto a list of 1,685 Jews, including 318 children, who the infamous Adolf Eichmann agreed to release to Switzerland in exchange for $1,000 per person.

Years after his Olympic career ended, Ladany has shrunk, his legs bow slightly and he hunches a little. But he keeps on walking.  “Any repeated physical effort bears fruit. Thanks to walking, I'm still on form and I can challenge myself,: he says.


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