WHEN it comes to controversial moments at the Olympic Games, there aren’t many more notorious than basketball’s gold-medal match in Munich half a century ago.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the USSR’s dramatic 51-50 victory over the USA, who had won every gold medal in Olympic basketball before the 1972 Games.
Now, Wales and Olympic basketball have never gone hand in hand, yet the intervention of a man with Welsh blood running through his veins played a pivotal role in the Soviet victory.
Dr Renato William Jones, also known William Jones, was the first secretary general of FIBA, basketball’s world governing body, a post he held for 44 years from 1932.
One of FIBA’s founding fathers, it was Rome-born Jones, whose father had Welsh roots, who was instrumental in basketball becoming an Olympic sport in Berlin in 1936.
While Jones did so much to help the growth of basketball across the world, he is probably just as well known for his involvement in the closing seconds of the Munich final.
The Soviets led 49-48 with just three seconds remaining, but a foul on Doug Collins gave the American the chance to win gold from the free throw line.
He made his two throws to tip the balance in the USA’s favor with time all but up.
However, it was as Collins was giving his team a 50-49 lead that the drama started.
When they game resumed after the second free throw, the Soviets began claiming that they had called for a timeout.
With the Americans thinking the gold medal was theirs, referee Renato Rhigetto, according to official scorekeeper Hans Tenschert, said the game would be restarted with one second left.
This, though, is where Jones comes in.
Leaving his seat in the stands, it is believed that Jones overruled Rhigetto and declared that three seconds, not one, should be put on the clock.
Jones later admitted that, under Olympic regulations, he had no authority to make a ruling on a game which was in progress – but he still felt three seconds was the right call.
But the drama was far from over.
When play finally got under way again, the USSR couldn’t get the ball to Alexander Belov under the USA’s basket in time for him to net the two points that would have won it.
However, with Jones still involved at the side of the court, the officials ruled the final three seconds be played again as the clock was still being reset when play was restarted.
Finally, with the clock reset, Ivan Edeshko launched a length-of-the-court pass to Belov who outmuscled Kevin Joyce and Jim Forbes to catch and score.
The Soviets had won.
Seething, the Americans remonstrated with the officials and later filed a protest which failed.
The USA squad refused to take their places on the podium (below) and the dozen silver medals remain locked away in a Swiss vault to this day.
Coincidentally, it was in Munich, nine years after the Olympics, that Jones died aged 74.
“Jones is a highly cosmopolitan figure who has made the single greatest contribution to the history and nature of the game to its expansion throughout the world, and to realizing and building on the vision of the founder of the sport,” wrote Manfred Stroher and Hans Dieter-Krebs after his death.
“As a progressive thinker who combined great creativity with an acute analytical intelligence, he was able to develop forward looking ideas and perspectives.
“He was responsible for the sport as a whole, but like a good orchestral conductor, in cases of doubt he tended to put individual players first, as the performers on whom everything ultimately depended.
“He was able to sense the merest hint of an opportunity or danger on the horizon, and had the ability to gather around him colleagues dedicated to the same cause and secure their agreement with his principles.
“He worked persistently but unobtrusively to put his ideas into practice, so laying the foundations of a sports empire placed under his discreetly exercised authority.”
The book continued: “Jones was quite correct in describing himself as “British”, particularly when people from other countries automatically referred to him as “English”, according to common usage in their own languages.”