Top four rows: Stills from the most famous epic fail ever.
Bottom row: Vinko Bogota (the agony of defeat guy) received a standing ovation at the ABC Wide World of Sports 20th Anniversary event April 21, 1981. Little known fact: Mohamed Ali was the first (among an army of other famous athletes) to get his autograph. Catch this cool video tribute HERE
Do you know the rest? Etched in most of our minds is the classic theme song, stunning ski jumper crash visuals and announcer’s voice of the Wide World of Sports, which debuted on this day in 1961. What began as a simple idea – television coverage blended with human interest stories, all wrapped around small sporting events, has grown into a trillion-dollar world wide industry. Sports coverage and sports celebrities today saturate television, the web, radio, newspapers, magazines and more, popularized over 50 years ago when a small group of reporters at ABC contracted to cover little-known AAU college track meets.
The Wide World of Sports was the brainchild of Edger Scherick, who hired a young Roone Arledge to produce the show (Roone, went on to a fantastic career at ABC producing the breakthrough shows WWoS, Monday Night Football, ABC News Tonight, Primetime, Nightline and 20/20). The debut telecast featured both the Penn and Drake Track Relays, broadcast from Drake Stadium. Hosting the show was Jim McKay with field reporting from Jesse Abramson, Bob Richards, Jim Simpson and Bill Flemming, all who went on to great broadcast careers.
Using videotape to capture each event, along with personal interviews with the coaches and athletes, the group would “jet” back to NY, assemble and edit the shows and then air them on Saturday afternoons. The segment ran in the spring and summer, filling a low ratings slot on Saturday afternoons. Due to slower reporting back then (no internet of course), they were able to present the show in a “near live” framework, injecting athlete stories and real emotions (to also attract more women viewers), something never before done on television.
As a kid, I loved tuning into the WWoS, and watching the events. Didn’t matter what it was – bowling, racing, skiing, climbing – I was intrigued by the grit and determination of the athletes. Looking back, it probably taught me the importance of hard work and determination, the thrill of winning and the reality of defeat. It also reminds me what a pioneer my Dad was, walking away from a good job, to start his own business, focused on engaging and delighting his audience. In his own way, he set out with a simple idea, and with the help of his family and team, guided KHT forward – kind of our “Roone”.
So next time you have the remote in your hand and you are searching for Derbyshire World Toe Wrestling, European Military Bed Racing, Wife Carrying in Finland, Bossaball in Spain, or Naked Bike Racing in the Alps (painful!), remember the early days of sports coverage and the “agony of defeat.” We are all better as a result!