Former Olympian shares Games experience

When Chelsea FC Soccer School (Hong Kong) technical director Luam Khen Koo watched some highlights of the opening ceremonies in the 2012 London Olympic Games last weekend, he could not resist recalling his own Olympic experience, 40 years ago.

Koo, who is on Saipan to help the island’s players improve their skills, was a member of the Malaysian national soccer team that competed in the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, Germany.

“It was a dream come true. I was young, just 21 years old and to compete in the biggest sports event in the world was a once in a lifetime opportunity,” Koo said in an interview with Saipan Tribune last Saturday.

“When I walked to the stadium with the rest of the Malaysian delegation, I had this sense of pride. It was a great feeling representing your country in any tournament, especially in the Olympics where you wave your flag and greet a lot of people, who greet you back and wave to you during the opening ceremonies. It was an unforgettable experience,” said Koo, who wore a suit and Malaysia’s traditional cap called “songkok” and joined about 100 athletes and officials from the Muslim country.

The 61-year-old former Olympian played midfield-fullback for Malaysia and had his debut against host West Germany.

“I was nervous during the first game. There were a lot of people watching and since we’re playing the host country, the pressure was bigger. We, amateur players, played against the semi pro Germans. It was an intense game and unfortunately, we lost, 0-3,”

Next up for Koo and company was the United States, which they beat, 3-0.

“That time the US men’s soccer team was not that strong, while Malaysia was a force in Asia,” said Koo, adding that only three Asian countries made it to the Olympic soccer competition in Munich, excluding now powerhouse Japan and South Korea.

“Only us, Iran, and Burma made it to the Olympics,” said Koo, who after representing Malaysia in the Olympics went to Hong Kong where he turned pro and became the former British territory’s national coach.

Koo’s last game was against Morocco and they lost, 0-3, failing to advance to the second round. Poland went on to win the gold medal after beating Hungary in the finals, 2-1, while the former Soviet Union and East Germany shared bronze medal honors after having a draw in the consolation game (at that time no rules on draws were formulated yet).

Despite Malaysia’s early elimination, Koo and his 18 other teammates still stayed at the Athletes Village for several days and were sound asleep on Sept. 5 when the Munich massacre happened. Eleven Israeli athletes and coaches, a West German police officer, and five terrorists were killed in the tragic incident that started with the Palestinian group Black September hostaging the Israeli Olympic team at Building 31 of the Munich Olympic Village.

“I think it happened early morning when most of the athletes were asleep. We were not that far from where the hostage taking happened because at that time accommodations were done in alphabetical order. However, we didn’t learn about the incident until in the morning. Security was so tight after that and athletes were really frightened,” Koo said.

The two-time “Coach of the Year” winner in Hong Kong Top Footballer Awards added games were stopped for two days and with the delay, the closing ceremonies were pushed back and he was not able to attend the event.

“We had to leave as we had already booked our flight back to Malaysia. It was unfortunate that we missed the closing ceremonies, but we still considered ourselves lucky because we left Munich unharmed,” said Koo.

By Roselyn Monroyo

Roselyn Monroyo | Reporter
Roselyn Monroyo is the sports reporter of Saipan Tribune. She has been covering sports competitions for more than two decades. She is a basketball fan and learned to write baseball and football stories when she came to Saipan in 2005.

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