How a camera click stopped Olympian from throwing away his medal

John Kynoch - Borders Olympian . Shows the 50m Running Boar target and the rifle used
John Kynoch - Borders Olympian . Shows the 50m Running Boar target and the rifle used

FOR former Gala rugby player and Olympic shooter, John Kynoch, this year marks the 40th anniversary of the games where he won a bronze medal competing against the world’s very best in his chosen sport.

The medal he won at the Munich games of 1972 in the mixed running target (50m) rifle shooting event is one of his proudest possessions, but, as he told TheSouthern, he was within a camera-click of throwing it away after the killing of Israeli athletes by Palestinian terrorists.

A New Zealander by birth, John has strong links with the Borders. He came to Scotland in the early 1950s, to join the family woollen business in Banffshire.

He studied at the Scottish Woollen Technical College in Galashiels and turned out as a hooker for the Gala YM rugby side.

He has lived for many years not far from the famous shooting centre at Bisley in Surrey, after moving there from Keith in north-east Scotland in 1981 –something he says is just a happy coincidence.

Still a keen marksman at 79, he was competing in his favourite discipline of moving target rifle shooting at this month’s British shooting championships staged at Bisley.

Despite decades of events under his belt, the spirit of competition still burns brightly and John admits to being chuffed that he took second place this year in the British Running Deer Championships.

When TheSouthern contacted him at his home to ask how he had got on, he laughed: “I think my focus of vision is not what it used to be as I’ve always been as blind as a bat without my glasses!”

He has been shooting since a youngster, but many of John’s former Border rugby-playing pals were amazed he could shoot at all so poor was his eyesight.

“I remember playing in a rugby match and thought I had scored the most magnificent try when I flopped over the try-line, only to be informed that I was actually only over the 25-yard line – what you’d now call the 22.

“But, in my sport we use telescopic sights, so it’s not so bad,” said John, who has also won at world and European championship level on numerous occasions.

Casting his mind back to the summer of 1972, John says he knew he was in with a good chance of being picked for shooting squad on the Great Britain team for the Olympics.

“For the two years before Munich, I’d been top of the pile so I knew I had a good chance of being selected.”

He says he very much enjoyed his time in the athletes’ village: “There was a great sense of camaraderie and friendship – it was a great experience.”

But that experience was overwhelmed by sadness and anger, when terrorists from the Black September group stormed the accommodation in the village being used by Israeli athletes.

The group called for the release 234 prisoners held in Israeli jails and demanded the release of all members of the German Red Army Faction being held in German prisons.

By the time the siege was over, 11 Israeli athletes and coaches, along with one West German police officer and five of the eight terrorists, were dead.

The three surviving assassins were captured, but later released by West Germany after Black September hijacked a Lufthansa airliner.

John says the episode almost ruined the entire Olympic experience for him. “The day before the killings I had booked a telephone call home to my wife at the communications centre.

“The next day when I called her, I was so upset I had to put the receiver down – I couldn’t continue speaking.

“I went and sat alone on a bench overlooking a pond. I was blubbing like a youngster and I was seriously on the verge of throwing my medal into the lake because I felt the terrorists had dirtied my medal – the medal I’d worked so hard to achieve.

“But I was disturbed by a click and discovered a photographer had crept up behind me. I was all tready to pounce on him, but he said the world wanted to know how the athletes felt about what had happened.

“It actually cleared my mind, and made me think that perhaps my grandchildren would like to see the bit of bronze I had won.”

Four years later and with the Montreal Olympics on the horizon, John was still among the top flight of British shooters with the prospect of being selected for a second games and the chance to add to his bronze medal.

He told us: “But at the time I was spending a lot of time training a young spaniel I had. My children had noticed this and asked me why I wasn’t training as much with the Olympics coming up.

“I think perhaps I didn’t want it as much as I had the first time round.”

John went on to serve for 14 years as chairman of the British Sporting Rifle Club and still mentors younger shooters.

“And I’m really looking forward to taking part in the next British championships when I’ll be 80!” he added with a chuckle.

z John’s story features in the new booklet for schools, Border Olympians and Paralympians: A Learning Resource, which has been compiled from original research by Henry Gray, with design work by the Heritage Hub.