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Chat wrap: Jim McKay
ABC Sports Online

Legendary ABC broadcaster Jim McKay visited the chat room on Sunday to celebrate Sunday's 40th Anniversary of Wide World of Sports. He talked about his career and the moments that made Wide World of Sports great.

T.J.: When you first went beyond the Iron Curtain with Wide World, was there a sense of fear because of the political climate?

Jim McKay: I don't know whether we were numb to it, or what. There wasn't a sense of fear. My first impression of the Soviet Union was how unbelievably drab it was. Although, I must say, coming in from the airport, there was a huge tank trap with great cross beams that said, "This far, the Nazis got, and no farther." That was quite impressive.

You did get the feeling that someone was probably watching you, but then you thought, "For what?" We were only covering a track meet.

Olga Korbut
Olga Korbut of the Soviet Union won five medals at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, Germany.

Marty: Describe what it was like being the host of ABC's Wide World Of Sports all these years.

McKay: It was certainly one of the great experiences of my lifetime. At this point, it's been more than half my life since Wide World started. I've had great experiences seeing the world and places that I wouldn't have seen otherwise. Not only behind the Iron Curtain, but London, Paris, Rome, so many places. It was a fulfilling time.

It was hard on my family life, hardest, of course on my wife, who was raising two kids by herself and writing a newspaper column, cooking and handling our financial affairs. What I did was travel the world. It was tiring.

I was pretty exhausted when I'd come home every week. I'd be home for two or three days and then I'd have to go again. So it was a double-edged sword, but in the end, my wife and I are glad we did it, and are glad we're sitting here on our farm and having a terrific time.

Adam Shubert: I was moved by your sign-off from the Kentucky Derby last year, recognizing the likely chance that you may not anchor another telecast of the greatest two minutes in sports. What are your favorite Derby memories?

McKay: There are a number, of course. One was Charlie Wittingham becoming the oldest trainer to win the Derby, and then Willie Shoemaker winning at age 54, becoming the oldest jockey to win the Derby aboard Ferdinand. Alysheba was a great horse, too. I loved Alysheba. He had such a commanding way about him, with the gap on the backstretch in the morning for his workout. He'd put his head up, look around, sort of like a king surveying his empire.

The greatest race I ever saw was the '89 Preakness, between Sunday Silence and Easy Goer. It was everything a horse race should be, right down to the wire.

Chris Antley's story was one of the most touching. He was such a sweet man, but he just could not get rid of those demons. It should tell anyone what that stuff can do to you.

kdm: What is the one Wide World event that is still going on in the world that you would visit in your free time- Iditarod, Ironman competition, Lumberjack championships, etc.?

McKay: I'm not too big on going to Alaska, but all those things were interesting.

The Sports Editor: You were there for the tragedy of the Munich Games. Is there a chance that will ever happen again? What does the IOC have to do to make sure?

McKay: It's been said many times, that if somebody is willing to give their life for yours, it's almost impossible for the Secret Service, barbed wire fences or anything to stop someone, sometime, from doing that. So it's important for the IOC to take all the precautions necessary.

In Munich, there was a relaxed attitude, because the Germans were trying to show that they were no longer a militaristic people, to soften some of the memories from World War II. Security people wore pale blue jackets. They did not want to give off a Nazi atmosphere.

The saddest thing is that there used to be a camaraderie in the Olympic Village, where athletes used to walk back and forth and introduce themselves, but they can't do that anymore.

Robert: What was the most bizarre event that you witnessed as host of Wide World of Sports?

Charismatic with Chris Antley up
Chris Antley saw his bid for a Triple Crown end when Charismatic pulled up lame in the final stretch at the Belmont Stakes.
McKay: One that was quote bizarre, and again, quite depressing. In the Soviet Union, motorcycle racing on ice.

They would flood the floor of the Dynamo Stadium in Moscow, and it would freeze, and they would bring out these motorcycles with the most vicious-looking spikes coming out of their tires. The drivers, they didn't make any money, and their leather jackets were all torn and ragged. They didn't get very big attendance, but that was quite bizarre.

Another event I did not do myself, was in Fiji, a native competition with spear throwing, coconut chopping, etc.

The main point of all of those things was that these events were there before we were. There was no "made for TV" aspect in it, whether it was barrel jumping, log rolling, people cared about these sports, and we showed that.

Will: Are you surprised at all the changes in sport in the 40 years of Wide World, and how many of those changes Wide World was a part of?

McKay: We were early in developing women's sports, having them on the air. In 1961, there was no nationwide women's movement yet. We had women's figure skating, gymnastics, swimming, softball and golf. And in those days, that wasn't the usual case.

We've seen changes in minority participation in sport, maybe not as much as it should be in some, but bit by bit, it's coming along. I can remember when, at some major golf tournaments, black people had a tough time getting in, even into the crowd.

On the negative side, the sad epoch of the '60s. Where the drug thing began? I don't know. You used to not hear about it, and all of a sudden, it was everywhere. Every person in every class had it, and, unfortunately, it's still prevalent today.

David Barron: What was the highlight of the show for you?

McKay: The fact that it was on, and that there was enough interest to put it on.

I always thought that once I got to my present age, the only people who would say hello to me would be old people, but it's been just the opposite. People in their 30s and 20s have come up to me and said, "I've grown up with you," or something to that effect. It's usually that line, though. That's very satisfying to me.

Marty: Do you think ABC'S Wide World of Sports can be successful in terms of viewer interest in the future?

McKay: Yes, I do. A lot of people are asking that question. People say there's so much of all those sports on cable, and that there isn't a need for it. Frankly, participating in this show, I look at it and I still think that not many people can do it as well as we did it.

There still seems to be an audience for it. The only thing that's stopping it is the economy, which is showing signs of life, so we'll see.

patrick: When you first started in broadcasting, did you have any idea of the diverse and interesting places it would take you?

McKay I had some idea. When Roone Arleedge called me to ask me about hosting the show, he said it would involve a certain amount of travel.

From the start, the second week, I went to England for the FA Soccer Cup, and then I went to France for the 24 hours of Le Mans, and then we went to Moscow for the U.S.-U.S.S.R Track Meet, and that's what gave us ratings, going to Moscow.

kfdzona: In the last 20 years what has been the best Sports moment? And best you have covered?

McKay: The 1980 Olympic Hockey team. I hosted the Olympics from the studio. It was the greatest upset in the history of sport, anywhere, anytime.

Thanks to everyone who's ever watched Wide World. I've had as much fun as you have.

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