Jim McKay is a television sports host and commentator who became identified with Wide World of Sports, a groundbreaking weekly sports program aired in the United States between 1961 and 1998. Wide World of Sports was produced using then state of the art broadcast technologies. McKay was also the primary television commentator as the events surrounding the hostage taking and murder of 11 Israeli Olympic team members unfolded at the 1972 Munich Olympics.
Prior to his involvement with Wide World of Sports, Jim McKay had been a respected television host and personality since the late 1940s in various capacities in local and network television in the northeastern United States. In 1961, he was approached by the American Broadcasting Company (ABC) to act as host for Wide World of Sports, a program then contemplated as summer television programming that would expose esoteric and unusual sports to the American viewing public.
Wide World of Sports proved to be so popular that it was continued into the following television season. The show became one of the longest running sports programs in history, and McKay acted as the host of the program from 1961 to 1998. The producers of Wide World of Sports perceived its mandate as one dedicated to sports that were out of the mainstream of the common feature of American sports television at the time—American football, baseball, and basketball. ABC broadcast the Hawaii Ironman in 1982 on this premise, the first international media attention ever paid to the event. The rapid growth in the popularity of both the Hawaii Ironman concept and the sport of triathlon generally can be traced to this broadcast.
A signature of the Wide World of Sports program was the intonation by McKay of an introductory homage to sport, that included the phrase, the thrill of victory, the agony of defeat. This expression became one of the best-known (and often parodied) phrases anywhere in the world of sport. The program played a film montage as McKay' voice could be heard, a series of film clips that were coordinated with the words McKay spoke.
The segment played in conjunction with the words, the agony of defeat, became impressed upon the consciousness of the American public and it made a folk hero of an obscure Yugoslavian ski jumper. In 1970, Vinko Bogataj was commencing his jump in the World Ski Flying championships in Germany, when he lost control in his descent down the ramp as he neared the end of the track. Bogataj fell at a high speed from the ramp, crashing through various barriers and tumbling a considerable distance into the spectators watching the competition. Wide World of Sport was present to film the event and Bogataj's spectacular crash became forever linked with McKay's narration.
That a segment such as Bogataj's fall was captured on film is a testament to the production of Wide World of Sports, lead by then unknown television sports producer Roone Arledge (1931–2002). Arledge would later create the next ABC signature television program, Monday Night Football, in 1969. A visionary, Arledge was one of the first domestic users of the first Atlantic satellite, the means by which Wide World of Sports could provide live sports broadcasts to the United States from around the world. This technology is commonplace today. In 1965, when the satellite was first utilized by ABC, a satellite transmission of any television programming was a rarity. Arledge also made use of the relatively recent television production inventions of slow motion and instant replay in the Wide World of Sports broadcasts.
In 1972, as the Olympic hostage crisis unfolded, it was McKay who was the communicator to the world of the information concerning the crisis, an event that ABC broadcasted live. McKay became associated with Olympic coverage generally, and he was a host on subsequent Olympic broadcasts in which ABC had a broadcasting interest until 2002.