1972 Munich Olympic Games- ABC Sports/ Jim McKay’s Television Coverage


Back when I was growing up and into my early adulthood the Olympic Games were always on ABC. When I look back now what a different world it was. In 1968 Mexico City the first Olympic Games I watched on television, ABC had 43 hours total of coverage and it cost them $4.5 million dollars for the rights to broadcast the games.

When I think of the Olympics back then I think of the outstanding coverage they had. The games then were obviously not on TV non-stop on a number of channels. They were on in prime-time in the evenings for 3 hours a night. You got the best of the best of the Olympics.

One of the things that stick out in my memory is how in the little time they had, 3 hours a night, you felt that you knew these athletes and not only the Americans. Before the weightlifting for example they would give you a profile of the great Soviet weightlifter Vasily Alexev. You felt you knew the man. It also taught me a lesson. Alexev may have represented the Soviet Union the “Evil Empire” but he was just a man, he wasn’t the Soviet government. He may have been a Russian but I loved the great Alexev and was always rooting for him. They did the same with many other athletes foreign and American. The coverage NBC is giving us, is very lacking in that way in my opinion.

I think the reason ABC did such a great job on the games was the announcers they had. They had the great Howard Cosell doing boxing. Howard is most famous for Monday Night Football and rightly so but I always thought Howard Cosell doing boxing, you couldn’t get any better than that. Other announcers ABC had during their Olympic years {They had the Summer Games from 1968-84 in 1984 we began seeing more of the games they would televise 180 hours in the Los Angeles Games and pay $225 million for it} they had Chris Schenkel, Jack Whitaker, Bill Flemming, Keith Jackson, Bob Beattie, Curt Gowdy, Al Trautwig, Al Michaels and others. These guys were all outstanding.

The greatest of all was Jim McKay. I totally forgot this but the host of the 1972 Games was Chris Schenkel. McKay would take over of the rest of the Olympic Games ABC covered after 1972. I tend to think it was Jim McKay because of his coverage of the Munich Massacre. Roone Arledge who was running ABC Sports at the time made the decision to go with Jim McKay as the man on the story because of McKay’s experience as an anchorman in Baltimore before joining ABC Sports. Jim McKay’s handling of this terrible event has to be the greatest work any sports announcer has ever done. I can’t imagine any of these guys today doing the job McKay did. Bob Costas? Give me a break. Jim McKay covered the entire event. He was on for 14 straight hours. Later he was joined as host by a young Canadian named Peter Jennings who would go on to bigger things.

It was Jim Mckay to told us  “When I was a kid my father used to say “Our greatest hopes and our worst fears are seldom realized.” Our worst fears have been realized tonight. They have now said there were 11 hostages; two were killed in their rooms yesterday morning, nine were killed at the airport tonight. They’re all gone.”

Jim McKay won an Emmy for his work in the 1972 Olympic Games. He would be the host of all the other Winter and Summer Olympics that ABC had.  He was probably most known for being the host of ABC’s Wide World Of Sports” which he was from 1961 until 1998. He also did the Kentucky Derby, Indianapolis 500, the British Open. He did 12 Olympic Games total. Over the years he won a dozen Emmy Awards.  He always seemed the same. He didn’t seem at all like a self-promoter. He was friendly, enthusiastic, a total professional.  We sure miss him his kind today. Jim McKay died in 2009 at the age of 86.



2 responses to “1972 Munich Olympic Games- ABC Sports/ Jim McKay’s Television Coverage

  1. Schenkel was a good host, but McKay was outstanding. I truly think that McKay was a solid person. i remember tuning in and hearing his voiceover ‘spanning the globe…..the thrill of victory….the agony of defeat. i never knew what i might see on wide world of sports, but i knew that i would be entertained.
    where have people like this gone? when i see broadcasters and play by play guys now, like bob costas, chris berman, gus johnson, i have to think really? these guys have the same job title and profession as McKay, but it is light years apart from the talent. i cannot say enough about that.

    great write up and post!

    • very true about Wide World of Sports.. McKay..Schenkel..those guys reported the story they were never trying to be the story or part of the story.. abc had some great talent back then.. no network ever again will approach what they had..

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