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FROM OUR FILES: A true pro at the Olympics: TV host Jim McKay

The sportscaster, who died on June 7, covered international sports in over 40 countries for ABC's 'Wide World of Sports,' as well as 12 Olympic Games, in which he tried to convey an overview and 'personality' of each Olympics for viewers.

By Larry EldridgeSports editor of The Christian Science Monitor / June 9, 2008

This 1980 file photo originally from ABC-TV shows Jim McKay. The veteran and eloquent sportscaster who was thrust into the role of telling Americans about the tragedy at the 1972 Munich Olympics died Saturday.



From the February 15, 1980 edition of The Christian Science Monitor

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Eric Heiden, Linda Fratianne, Ingemar Stenmark, et al. may be the starts on the ice and snow, but the most familiar face by far during the current Winter Olympic telecasts is that of the man who is telling us all about it - Jim McKay.

It's no contest, really, for while the others come and go, McKay is the one constant presence on the screen as host for 51 1/2 hours of coverage spread over 13 days of competitions.

Also, of course, while most of the athletic stars change every four years, McKay has become "Mr. Olympics" to millions of Americans who can hardly envision the quadrennial spectacle without his low key but always expert and knowledgable commentary.

We may have had a World Series without the Yankees last year, and it looks as though we're going to have a Miss America pageant without Bert Parks next fall, but an Olympics year without Jim McKay? Never! There hasn't been one, at any rate, all through the 1960s and '70s - and he's there again for these first games of the '80s.

McKay's professionalism and unpretensiousness (not qualities one necessarily associates automatically with TV announcers) come through in person just as they do on the screen. It becomes quickly apparent while talking to the veteran ABC commentator, in fact, that his success is no accident.

"I see my job as trying to present an overview," he said here in explaining how he prepares to cover a vast event like the Olympics. "I try to anticipate what the personality of a particular games will be, and then convey that to the audience. Sometimes the personality changes during the course of the games - and you have to sense such changes and make the audience aware of them.

"In Mexico City the question was whether they knew how to run an Olympics. It seemed as though it was going to be a disaster - student riots, people getting shot in the streets, the Russians going into Czechoslovakia. But during the games everything changed. There was a warm feeling - a feeling that here was a small nation doing the best it could.

"In Munich they were supposed to be the serene games. They started that way, too, but then the tragedy changed everything.

"In Montreal, we though of it as a confrontation between the big powers, but it ended up as an Olympics in which small nations got more than their share of the limelight. Nadia Comaneci was from Romania, you had the success of East Germany, and there were all those athletes from small countries winning the track and field events.