“There may not be another Sportsphile in the history of athletic endeavor that has brought more sports to the world…..not ALI….not MJ…..not NOBODY….as NOBODY reached more people…than JIM McKAY…..and he did it with a style unmatched by others….as he described sport in such a way as to make it a verbal art form for the listener.” Bone Daddy
Today I am going to give you a very special gift….in a very special way……cuz I get to do something that I know will bring a smile to BD’s face…..and that makes me happy. On many occasions, I have heard BD express his opinion of who he thinks were the best sports media (be it radio, television or live) announcers ….commentators….. analysts…..play by play men….you know, the HUMANS that bring the events to the public of fans everywhere. Just to name a few of BD’s all time favorites….there’s Harry Carey, Dizzy Dean, Vin Scully, Bob Costas, Joe Garagiola and Bob Ueker in baseball; Howard Cosell, Barry Tomkins, Larry Merchant, Marv Albert, Dr. Ferdie Pacheco, Tim Ryan and Gil Clancey in boxing; Keith Jackson, Kern Tipps, John Madden, Pat Summeral, Chris Schenkel, Curt Gowdy and Brent Musberger in football; Dick Enberg, Chris Everett and John McEnroe in tennis; Vern Lundquist, Johnny Miller, Jim Nance, David Ferherty and Ken Ventura in golf; Al McGuire, Jeff Van Gundy, Bobby Knight, Tom Heinshom in basketball; and I could go on and on, etc…etc……but his favorite of all time was Jim McKay…..the HUMAN who covered all of the lead sports aired by ABC’s Wide World of Sport .…which was too many sports to mention…many of which were uncommon to the US viewer…..but requiring incredible athleticism even in its “uncommonness”. McKay also was the lead host and face of both the Summer and Winter Olympic Games for ABC Sports for many years….way more than any other person in the industry throughout history…..and regardless of the sport he was covering…..which probably was a more diverse portfolio than any other commentator’s portfolio….and as Bone Daddy puts it…”he completed his entire career in expressed eloquence and elegance.”
In 1984, our Bone Daddy, the original Sportsphile, attended the Los Angeles Summer Olympic Games…. where he and two of his traveling buddies set an Olympic Fan Record that can never be beaten….ONLY tied…..wherein the Tres Amigos attended a live Olympic event in each of the 26 sports that medals were competed for at the L A Games….so I thought that in this tribute to the eloquence and elegance of Jim McKay…..that I would post our entire collection of 1984 Summer Olympics official t-shirts….which could only be purchased at the venues for each different sport’s events….so, an Olympic fan could only buy each of the t-shirts depicted herewith at the venue where that sport was played. So, this display of official Olympic t-shirts could only have been acquired by being each specific event…..and serves as a wonderful reminder of each and every call by the sportscaster with words draped with elegance and eloquence.
McKay was the narrator and host of a special ABC Sports televised program that chronicled the meteoric growth of women’s gymnastics in the world and specifically the USA, from 1968 to 1978…..which will provide written proof of McKay’s eloquence and elegance…..as I am going to share verbatim the dialog of the whole program on the evolution of women’s gymnastics. In this program the viewer sees the development in women’s gymnastics with video of the athletes who played a major roll throughout the process…….however, it is the dialog that will provide absolute support to BD’s opinion that Jim McKay was the best.
The program begins with Jim McKay hosting the 1968 Mexico Olympics….and on this day was covering the Women’s Gymnastics Competition…..as Czech competitor Vera Caslavka was beginning her last routine of the floor exercise… these were McKays’s own words: “Competing against representatives of a nation (USSR) that had invaded her native Czechoslovakia just two months before the games opened….as she moves to her final discipline the floor exercise….simply interject…..she needs a 9.9 to win her 4th gold medal. Caslavka made no secret of her patriotic feelings during the competition. This was her free exercise….the Mexican hat dance calculated to please her hosts….we were there.When the scores were added up….she had tied for the gold medal in the event with a Russian gymnast. As they stood side by side with USSR competitor Laryssa Petrik on the victory podium…..Vera stepped aside and cast her eyes downward when the Soviet anthem was played. It was an eloquent and silent protest of the invasion…..Vera Caslavka….more than a decade ago.”
At the same Olympics…..observers took note of a 16 year old Californian named Cathy Rigby. She placed 16th in the overall competition….not bad for an American. But Cathy was only beginning…as two years later….at the World Championships in Yugoslavia….she became the 1st American woman ever to qualify for an event final (1970) on the balance beam where her performance was one that would win her a silver medal….it would also set new standards for Americans in the sport….and inspire a generation of little girls to become the new Cathy Rigby. Cathy’s work represented “the state of the art back in those days”…..for back in 1970, staying on the beam seemed tougher than it is now (1979) although the degree of difficulty is much higher today. Cathy worked slowly…. deliberately…..yet she made it look so easy. Cathy Rigby winning a silver medal at the World Championships in Yugoslavia in 1970….becoming America’s 1st World Championship medalist in women’s competition…..and there was much more to come.
The program proceeded to move to the training center for the USA National Team for a conversation between Jim McKay and the Coach of the US National Women Gymnastics Team regarding how far the sport has progressed in the past decade. As McKay and Coach stood in the gym while the members of the team were training….the conversation went directly to the progression of women’s gymnastics since 1968 in Mexico City when Vera Caslavka won all around gold…..to the present…..ten years later (1978) for the following conversation beginning with the US team competition in Mexico City as follows….
Coach: “American girls were in a tight deadlock for a possible bronze medal….and we had elected not to show the Soviet on the uneven bars to our team…..we had them face us where they could not glance up or be distracted…..while another Coach was addressing the team….and I was observing the Soviets warm up….I saw this skinny little girl doing this unbelievable thing on the high bar bar…which I perceived as something important…I often wonder what would have happened had I not looked up and saw her warm up.”
McKay: “You’ll not be surprised to hear her name was Olga Korbut. She was a last minute substitute on the Soviet team…..who replaced Nina Dronova after she had broken her wrist. Olga wasn’t even listed in the Russian team biography. But after Coach Gordon Maddux spotted that practice move…..we began to comment.”
While McKay and Maddux watched the replay of Olga Korbut’s performance on the uneven bars…..which many considered her greatest discipline…..and you’ll begin to feel the excitement that Coach experienced in viewing what Olga was accomplishing ….for this was just another example of Jim McKay’s eloquence and elegance…..as spoken live while he watched Olga perform.
Coach: “Now watch this…watch this….back somi (somersault I think!?)….back somi right to the other bar”
McKay: “Has that been done before?”
Coach: “Never….Never….not by any HUMAN that I know of…..look at that….and she’s second best….I don’t believe it.”
The move that these two men were watching was done by Korbut on the uneven bars exercise….where she did a hands release back somersault from the high bar to the lower bar.
Coach: “She’s Cathy Rigby’s size”
McKay: “By morning she was a household name around the world.”
The next night we moved to the individual all around finals. After the vault, Olga had a chance at the gold. And now came her specialty….the uneven bars….and it was a disaster…..then again while both men watched the next night’s competition…..
Coach: “Oh that’s a shame….right off the bat.”
Then on Olga’s very 1st maneuver to start her uneven bar exercise….that is when she missed her 1st bar grab and fell….after which she had to start over.
Coach: “And now she’s in such a tight fight for the championship….here we go….from a back somi to the catch….wow…even with her mistakes…. she’s still revolutionizing gymnastics.”
McKay: “Point out specifics when you can.”
Coach: “I sure will….she just dropped….that’s another mistake….poor kid…you know this is what we talk about seasoning.”
McKay: “Oops….she just lost it all….lost her composure at age 17.”
Olga had missed her catch moving from the low bar to the high bar…..causing her to lose her swing speed….not having enough speed or lift to carry her to the next maneuver…..and coming to a complete stop in the routine… so she had to start her swing on the high bar all over again.
McKay: “The small vulnerable figure left the floor defeated….her confidence was gone….as her Coach Osvakova tried to console her….the tears started to flow….triumph had turned to tear…..a child’s joy turned to teenage sadness….and no one feels deeper sadness than a teenager. Still….one more night remained….the individual event finals……the world held it’s breath as Olga returned to the bar. She was good….perfection had returned…the confidence flowed. At age 17….82.5 pounds….that is some courage and some poise.
Remember the things that happened as we showed you on last Monday nights victory….last nights defeat….and tonight…it may well be victory again. She needs 9.85 to take the lead ….. she didn’t get it….her score 9.80 ties her for the lead with Erika Goulkov…but she could still get a gold medal.
But that tie for the lead was not to last….the final performance on the uneven bars was Karen Janz….an East German medical student…..who was older…more experienced….more mature….as Janz performed brilliantly….it was she who one the gold medal. What had seemed so easy to Olga on Monday..…now seemed more and more elusive….but the crowd was still with her….it was Olga that they were cheering for….and she knew it. Would that demonstration in her behalf intimidate the judges as she performed on the beam a few minutes later. Well certainly the crowd inspired Olga…..this at last was the performance that would do it for her…..would win her the gold medal that everyone in the world wanted her to win.”
And now…only the floor exercise was left….would you have bet against her for another gold medal that night?….cuz we certainly would not have done so….not after all that she had been through in an Olympic gymnastics final that no one in the world expected her to be in competition for in the 1st place..
McKay: “As I said….there’s one more gymnast to go…you might have guessed….it’s Olga Korbut…she has a gold now…. she has a silver….to win another gold….she needs to have a performance of 9.90….that’s what she got on the balance beam….her best discipline yet.”
As Olga begins her floor exercise performance…so went the conversation between Coach Maddux and Jim McKay as they analyzed this historic event as follows:
Coach: “What an exciting little gal…Ha Ha Ha…..watch how she beams and plays to the crowd. Isn’t that something?”
McKay: “Interesting….you can tell…..nothing can stop her now.”
Coach: “I hope she get’s it….just had a couple of arm breaks….but so did her teammate….OH YEAH ….as she finished.”
McKay: “In the end….there seemed a destiny in the saga of Olga Korbut….the winning mark on the final floor exercise surprised no one….and although her teammate…Tamara Lazakovitch…. had turned in a marvelous performance. For Lazakovitch….it was a bitter defeat….the silver medal brought only tears to her. On the medal stand…..while Korbut rejoiced….and Lazakovitch would cry….a picture of joy and tragedy….those old familiar faces in the credits of the old movies. The tears were unnoticed by the idolaters of Olga…she was the toast of town….an instant celebrity if ever there was one. Her other teammate…. Tadmilla Touristiva…. had won the all around title and was unquestionably the best women’s gymnast in the world, but Olga was destiny’s darling….her impact on gymnastics would change the sport forever.
Gymnastics had changed in the past decade….especially in spectator interest…. as the sport had all grown up and changed….and improved in a manner of known techniques…..it seems Gordon for example….that the women in particular have had a global explosion of difficulty in the things they are doing.”
Coach: “Really it’s because the men’s side of the sport is so old ….and the women have just begun competing in the last generation….starting from ground zero…..the progression of their difficulties has just been unbelievably fast.”
McKay: “Why don’t we compare the techniques of say ten (10) years ago…..with the techniques of today. Remember there are four (4) disciplines in women gymnastics ….uneven parallel bars / vault / balance beam and floor exercise.”
Coach: “In the 1968 Olympics….Caslavka’s uneven bar routine included simple fundamental moves from bar to bar….her big trick was a back straddle into a full pirouette..…probably wouldn’t even be a compulsory routine now….. with a dismount of a simple set-off. Again, contrasting Rhonda’s bar routine a decade later….she shows great similarity to the men’s horizontal bar….. a variety of circles….right to handstands….and even a giant swing….which she caps off with a Comaneci dismount.”
Coach: “Ludmila Turyscheva (1972)….one of the all time great women gymnast ….at her 1972 Olympic floor exercise routine….was based on firm foundation of balletic movements……and yet as you watch the routine…. there’s almost a total absence of acrobatic movements….as there’s an aerial layover…and her big trick was just a simple back somersault…yet as you watched her….you were impressed with the movement.
By contrast in 1978…..World Champion Elena Muchina….opens with a full twisting double back….a move that was previously confined to the trampoline….and in the rest of her routine….she shows more great acrobatic moves….but you notice the movement isn’t as smooth….it isn’t as elegant….it isn’t the kind of move you’d see in a ballet theatre for sure. Now comes a tumbling move and then she finishes her routine amazingly enough….by another double back somersault…..tremendous difficulty….which is quite a contrast to just ten (10) years back.”
Coach: “And then the balance beam….we are looking at Czech Anna Liskova at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico….her work is going to be very slow….very deliberate…..with again…an absence of acrobatic moves ……in fact….maybe the most difficult move will be the handstand lower to a forward roll….an age group move appropriate for today’s girls of eight (8) or nine (9) year old requirement performance.
Our contrast is in the America Cup in 1979….using USA Tracey Talavera’s routine……watch her acrobatic moves…..there’s a back walkover….she’s so much more aggressive…she almost attacks her moves….proof of the foundation I would think that’s more acrobatic with the style type certainly riskier….as in that back somersault….then she gets ready for her dismount…it is two back hand springs into a double twister.”
The program shifts to one of the gymnastics training centers…..where McKay and Coach were commentating from inside the center….which was indicative of how far women’s gymnastics had come…. for this facility was state of the art.
Coach: “Here in New Jersey….is a new well equipped gym…..not all of our facilities are this glamorous….so, we took a camera to the Parkettes Gymnasium in Allentown, Pennsylvania …..where believe it or not…they practice on the 3rd floor of a converted burlesque house appropriately enough….. as the Parkettes facility is confined only to girls….which manages to feed the national team with more young ladies than any other program.”
McKay: “For some of the little ones (ages range from 4 – 12)….the 1st thing you remember about gymnastics is the music you hear….and this girl….Nadie Comaneci….who at age fourteen (14) at the Montreal Olympics….set standards that young girls for years to come would strive to achieve.”
By the time the 1976 Montreal Olympics rolled around….Cathy Rigby was a commentator working with Jim McKay….who were calling the routine of Nadie Comaneci on the uneven bars.
Rigby: “Beautiful rhythm….right to a handstand….OOHHH…look at that aptitude …. WOW…she is really moving well….another handstand….look at that roll to the handstand….a precise and beautiful landing….and the crowd loved it.”
McKay: “Nadie Comaneci of Rumania….OH!!!….now look at her play the crowd of over 18,000…all are delighted with her performance.”
Rigby: “A PERFECT 10….the 1st I’ve ever seen that in Olympic competition.”
McKay: “Now they’ve began to stand here at The Forum….and this is the 1st day of competition.”
Rigby: “What a performance…look how excited she is….I have never seen such emotion on her face.”
McKay: “In the nights to come….the thousands of people jamming The Forum would have much to cheer about….and before the week was over….Nadie would receive seven (7) perfect marks of 10….a feat unprecedented in the sport. There was no question now that women’s gymnastics had taken a mighty turn….the elegance and maturity of Caslavka and Turyscheva had given way to the athleticism, the agility and the courage of the girls in their early teens
Olga had bridged the gap from woman to girl child in the sport….and now Nadie had become the embodiment of youth. Some wondered if anyone could be perfect at fourteen (14), but the judges thought Nadie was….and the crowds agreed.
And what of Olga….for she was there in Montreal…but four (4) years had made such a difference. At age 21….dark circles had replaced the bright spirit in her eyes. She was still good but not great….as uncertainty had won over confidence. The world that had opened to her in Munich…was now receding into the past.
But all too soon…..Nadie’s turn would come….when two (2) years later at the world championships in France….when her body had been totally transformed….and now at age 16, she was 3 inches taller and 20 pounds heavier….while lacking that ultimate belief in herself that perhaps only children can have. By now there were rumors of deep personal depression ….as the spark was missing…..and still she rallied well enough to win a single gold medal….which came on the balance beam.”
DOG ASIDE: Isn’t that great stuff……I cannot express how much I enjoyed Jim McKay’s commentary behind the mike……whether it was covering gymnastics in Warsaw….synchronized swimming in Mexico City….. downhill ski racing in St. Moritz….Olympic hockey at Lake Placid….surfing in Hawaii….figure skating in Moscow….or curling in Montreal…..for whenever or wherever he covered sports, he did it so well…..that even when you couldn’t see the event he was covering….he made it sound like you were right there with him…..and each and every time, he did it with ”a touch of eloquence and elegance.” Thanks for the memories Jim McKay.