Gable was a 23-year-old athlete who had already won the Olympic gold medal in freestyle wrestling. Now the world's eyes were fixed 50 yards away from him, where the hostages were being held.
Two were already dead. The other nine would die later at the airport during a firefight between German forces and Palestinians.
``I looked out the window, and I didn't see anything,'' Gable said. ``Then I went outside and there were armed guards with heavy rifles.''
That was when the lesson of Munich began for Dan Gable. It would take a long time for him to fully understand.
``Munich,'' Steven Spielberg's film about a team of Israeli agents told to assassinate those behind the attack, has rekindled interest and focused on the somber meaning of those deaths.
It began on Sept. 5, 1972, when eight members of the terrorist group Black September snuck into the Olympic Village and stormed the men's residence, seizing 11 Israeli athletes and coaches. They killed two Israelis and took the other nine hostage, demanding the release of more than 200 jailed Palestinians.
After negotiations broke down, the gunmen took their hostages to a local airport. A failed rescue attempt by German police led to the deaths of the nine hostages and two of the terrorists.
All of this would be known later. At the time, for Gable, simply seeing the security forces with guns was a shock. The Olympic Village had gone from a relaxed environment where he could come and go as he pleased to a tighter, more controlled facility. The mood had changed.
``I actually changed my ways and wanted to get out of there,'' said Gable, who later became a celebrated wrestling coach at the University of Iowa. ``I changed my plane and caught the next charter back the next day.''
When he landed in New York, reporters were waiting. Microphones were pushed before him. People yelled the same question, ``How are things in Munich?''
``At that time I wasn't even on their wavelength,'' he said. ``They were on the wavelength of the terrorist activities. I was on the wavelength of, 'What's it like? Oh, it's a pretty nice day, the sun's out.' And they went, 'No, the mood!'
''It's kind of different now than it was back then, when you have 30-plus years to think about what took place,`` he said. ''There's been a lot of information on TV through the years, and now there's the movie based on the incident.
``You're in a different stage of your life, and you kind of wonder why you look at it different now than you did back then. I absolutely look at it differently now that time has progressed.''
The world immediately processed what Munich meant -- that the Olympics were no longer a safe place, that international terrorism meant an event designed for world unity could instead turn into bloody chaos.
Each year, he would think back to Munich. And each year, the importance of his medal would be replaced by the understanding that what had happened there was bigger than he'd realized.
``It's strange to me because I didn't jump on board right away,'' he said. `` It changed the world, and it was a big deal, but at the time I didn't realize it.
''It hit me a little more every year _ that what did take place was well beyond my gold medal.``
Dan Gable is now 57 years old, retired, with a wife, four daughters, two grandsons and another grandson on the way.
He had an extraordinary high school and college career, winning 182-1, losing only his final college match. In pre-Olympic and Olympic matches leading up to the 1972 games, he outscored opponents 130-1.
He coached Iowa to 15 National Collegiate Athletic Association titles in 21 seasons, including nine in a row. He was head coach of the Olympic wrestling team three times.
And Munich showed him, as time shows us all, that the things we covet and aspire to are not as important as we think.
''That's fair,`` he said. ''That's true.``
By BILL REITER, Des Moines Register
Gannett News Service