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Chat wrap: ABC's Keith Jackson
ABC Sports Online


ABC's legendary announcer Keith Jackson kicked off a week-long worth of chats on Wednesday to celebrate Sunday's 40th Anniversary of Wide World of Sports. He chatted with online users about his Olympic and Wide World experiences, his admiration of Eric Heiden and who his favorite broadcasters are.

Keith Jackson: I'm hiding in the great Pacific Northwest in the summer. I'm here to take your questions.

Great Bear: What was it like working with Jim McKay all those years?

Keith Jackson: I never actually worked too much with him. Most of the time we were at different locations. Often times, different parts of the world. At the Olympics, he'd be in the studio, but I'd be at a venue.

I remember being at Heathrow in London. I ran by a fellow sitting the sunshine, and it was McKay. I said, "What are you doing?" He said, "I am worn out. I have done 7 shows in 5 countries in the last five days."

Crazy Leggs Joe: Of all the events you've covered, is there one where you knew while calling it that it'd be replayed over and over on television for the rest of your life?

Keith Jackson: Yes, some of those early days of Wide World of Sports events, like the beginning of wrist-wrestling. They were farmers, dairy men, truck drivers and regular guys having fun I still see those on TV now and then. It's fun to see the crew cut and the young fellow named Keith that doesn't look like me anymore.

Delvin: I know you have visited a lot of placed, where is the place you would stay and cover sports if you had a choice?

Keith Jackson: This is a tough one. I've been in 31 nations and traveled millions of miles. If I could go to a single event each year, it'd either be the British Open or the Masters. I think the U.S. Open golf tournament is the most important in the world. The one event I enjoyed and that would be the Henley Royal Regatta. It's on the Thames River, like 10 miles from London. It's a wonderful event that happens around the 4th of July every year. A good crew going against another crew is a beautiful thing and one of the most competitive events you could ever have. It's total team.

Jason M.: When you watch the 40th Anniversary special, which sport will you look back with the most amazement at?

Keith Jackson: It'll be interesting to see how it all comes together. The younger guys are putting it together, and many of them weren't there, so it'll be interesting to see it through their eyes. That's my primary interests. It'll be fun to see those moments again. It was a great idea. Wide World opened the idiom of sports more than any program ever. You had to be a storyteller to be successful, and that's why Jim McKay was so good at it.

Al Mattei: I know it has not escaped your notice that the "anthology" series is an endangered species of sports television now that sports leagues and their major contracts now dominate the sports airwaves. Heck, pro bowling can't even get a decent TV deal anymore! Is there room anymore for the likes of wrist-wrestling, fireman's competitions, barrel jumping, and Division III football anymore?

Keith Jackson: Probably not. I know Howard Katz at ABC wants to reinstitute this, but I don't know how it'll go. I hope it would work, though. Live sports are the way to go now. We used to be able to tape an event, edit it and then narrate. You used to have to save your notes, because you'd edit it sometimes six months after you were there. It required energy and a good memory. No question about that.

Lemonboy: Is covering an Olympics the most arduous task -- workwise -- that an announcer can undertake?

Eric Heiden of the USA in acton during the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, N.Y.

Keith Jackson: Yes. It was in 1976 when I did all the Track and Field at Montreal. In '72 required a lot of work too. Everything was a flash. We had the Mark Spitz story. Then in '80, we had Eric Heiden. Those were easy, because of the personalities. Those people were always available for you and it was so exciting that it wasn't much work when you thought about it.

I turned down hockey in 1980 to do speed skating. Can you believe that? I just had never done hockey, and I loved the Heiden story. That was the greatest single Olympic performer ever in the history. He got covered up by a mediocre hockey team that happened to win the Gold.

Crazy Leggs Joe: Was there a sport you covered for Wide World that you weren't sure you would enjoy, be ended up liking it a lot after being around it?

Keith Jackson: I always was such a sports nut, and had knowledge of most all sports. Amateur boxing might have been one. Though I boxed as a young boxing, I had to come around to that sport. Once exposed to it, it kindled my own interest.

Wayne Hulet: What has been your most memorable sports moment? Both in person and during your lifetime?

Keith Jackson: This one is very hard for me to answer. I'd hate to exclude anything. If you take away basketball, baseball and football, one of the most starting things I ever saw was Bobby Allison winning a race upside-down. He slid over the finish line after getting into a wreck.

One of the most exciting things I ever saw was in 1965 when Mira Slovak won the air racing in Reno. He flew an F-6 Bearcat. He flew most of the day 100 feet or so over the desert floor. Also, the UW crew team beating Moscow in the Soviet Union. I did that event, and it was thrilling for me to be there. Spitz and Heiden as well.

bron jones: In your years of covering Auto Racing on Wide World, which drivers and races stand out in your memory?

A.J. Foyt
A.J. Foyt, from Houston, Texas, climbs out of his Chevrolet after grabbing the pole position here Friday, July 3, 1976, during qualifying for the Firecracker 400 auto race to be run on the 4th of July. Foyt turned in the fastest lap at 183.090 mph.

Keith Jackson: They are the same guys that auto racing fans would remember -- guys like the Allisons, Petty and A.J. Foyt. The biggest bulldog of the bunch was Cale Yarborough. He was a tough guy on the race track. What was interesting among those people is how different they were away from the track. So many were quiet.

Most of the big, tough, loud guys were built up on Wide World didn't act that way if you got to them away from their sport.

Geoff Folsom: What was the best overall Olympics?

Keith Jackson: It was marked by tragedy, but the Summer Olympics in '72 was great. It could have been one of the great ones as far as excitement and pleasure by the fans. It's too bad for the ugly part that intruded.

Here's a story for you: I remember standing on the side of the pool one day and my hands were behind my back. Someone put a roll of paper in my hand. It was a summary of the diving results from the judges.

Two judges were sent packing once I turned it over to the federation. It was obvious that it was the Soviets, but they've never owned up to it. It showed that they were utterly partial to the Russian divers, and were sent packing once those results became known.

Another story came to mind just now, so I'll share it. One time I saw a car come apart and the two big rear wheels and the car box bounced 500 feet down the track. Everyone thought the man was dead.

Don Prodhume was racing against this guy. And he was so broken up, he started crying. Then, all of a sudden, he showed up at the awards dinner that night with a band aid. That's it. It was one of the miracles I've seen in sports.

Geoff Folsom: Do you like any of the younger sports broadcasters?

Keith Jackson: I still am partial to the old timers like Enberg and Scully.

As you grow older, you develop a different flavor. As a young sports announcer, you look to find your way and the way to develop different than the others. I resent those who intrude on the contest, I can tell you that. The playing field belongs to the players and coaches.

But, there are lots of young announcers in the business now who will be successful for a very long time. The one that stands out to me is Jim Nantz. He never intrudes. ESPN has several great ones, as well.

One of the best Olympics work I ever saw was Verne Lundquist when he covered Kerrigan-Harding. He handled it with dignity and preserved the sport in the way he did his work.

Geoff Folsom: Who are your favorite current athletes?

Keith Jackson: I love to watch Randy Johnson pitch. I like David Wells. I love baseball a lot, it's a wonderful game.

The NBA has lost me, but I do enjoy college basketball a lot. At the college level with the women, I think they play the game better. It's not as physical, but the game is played the most correctly. Walter Mitty still lives in college basketball.

Track and Field is going nowhere now, and I think it is a great shame. The money crunch has slowly eroded a lot of the sports that make up the Olympic Games. That's a shame.

One of the things that made Wide World an ongoing and great venue to work in was the variety. We saw and did things that many people never heard of, and in places that were difficult to get to.

We would go halfway around the world for boxing at a moment's notice. We searched out all stories and all sports. Wide World opened the door as much as any television program. You'll see that if you watch the 40th Anniversary show on Sunday at 4 p.m. ET.

Thank you all for coming in and talking with me. See y'all in September. College football.

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