Remembering Jim McKay: Thrill of victory and agony of defeat

As I watched the hype over Triple Crown theat Big Brown during the pre-race coverage Saturday of the Belmont Stakes, I could not stop thinking about Jim McKay, the iconic forefather of broadcast sports journalism as host of ABC's Wide World of Sports and anchor of the network's breaking-news coverage of the horrific terrorist attack during the 1972 Munich Games. He died earlier in the day at the age of 86.

McKay, who covered 12 Olympics in all, died of natural causes in a Maryland hospital, according to his family.

Who could forget McKay's iconic opening "Spanning the globe …" and "the thrill of victory, the agony of defeat," which had already cemented his legacy, since ABC's Wide World of Sports premiered in 1961, by the time the ugliness in Munich turned the sports world upside down.

Forever etched in the American consciousness of sports-news journalism is McKay's somber unscripted one-liner, "They're all gone," when ABC learned of the extent of the massacre in the wake Black September terrorists' attack on the Israeli athletes in the Olympic Village.

McKay won numerous awards for journalism, including the George Polk Memorial Award and two of his 13 Emmys for the Munich coverage -- one for his sports coverage, the other for his news reporting.

He was his first Emmy in 1968. Twenty years later, he won his 12th, the same year he was inducted into the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame -- not for his talents as a broadcaster, but as the writer of the openings for ABC Sports' coverage of the 1987 Indianapolis 500, the British Open and the Kentucky Derby.

McKay is the only broadcaster to have won Emmys for sports and news broadcasting and for writing.

In 1990 he was the recipient of the first-ever Lifetime Achievement in Sports award from the Academy. In 1992 he was the recipient of an Emmy Award in the Individual Achievement category for the ABC Sports special, "Athletes and Addiction: It's Not a Game."

In 1989, McKay received the Peabody Award, which is presented annually to recognize the most distinguished and meritorious public service programming rendered each year on radio and television.

McKay was the first American network sports commentator to visit mainland China. In 1991, he visited Cuba to interview Fidel Castro.

Jim McManus, McKay's real name, was born in Philadelphia, on Sept. 24, 1921. He moved with his family to Baltimore when he was 15 and later graduated from Loyola College. He enlisted in the Navy as an officer during World War II.

It is ironic that on the day Jim McKay passed on, the biggest horse race in 30 years was under way with Big Brown, the prohibitive favorite, expected to capture the Triple Crown.

Hore racing was McKay's favorite sport. Big Brown didn't have it when it counted. On this day, it was the agony of defeat over the thrill of victory.

Jim McKay understood the meaning of competition and captured the action with a brand of sports commentating that those on ESPN could only hope to emulate.