New York Jim McKay elegantly covered competitions from badminton to barrel jumping. Yet he may best be remembered for that grim day at the Munich Olympics when he broke the news with three simple words: "They're all gone."
The groundbreaking sportscaster died Saturday of natural causes at his farm in Monkton, Md. He was 86.
McKay was the one who spanned the globe to bring television viewers the constant variety of sports on ABC's influential "Wide World of Sports," where he told of "the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat."
A far different kind of agony awaited in 1972 when word came down in Munich that Palestinian terrorists had kidnapped 11 Israeli athletes. McKay was summoned from a day off, hurriedly putting clothes over a bathing suit to anchor ABC's coverage of the drama as the games stood still.
The commando raid to free the hostages ended awfully. McKay told the world. Later, at the closing ceremony, he read a poem by A.E. Housman, "To an Athlete Dying Young."
"I had to control myself," he later recalled. "I was full of emotion. But when you are a professional, it is important to communicate what it is like, to capture the moment."
President Bush lauded McKay for his "skill and sensitivity" during coverage of the 1972 Olympics.
"He was a talented and eloquent newsman and storyteller whose special gift was his ability to make the viewers at home genuinely care about more than just who won or lost," Bush said in a statement.
It was "Wide World of Sports" that built ABC Sports into a powerhouse after its debut in 1961. The age before ESPN and a constant video loop of highlights was simpler then, and viewers tuned in to see what new kind of competition McKay could find. ABC estimated McKay traveled 41â2 million miles on assignment for "Wide World," covering 40 countries.
When he moved from NBC to ABC Sports, pioneering television executive Roone Arledge specifically sought out McKay.
"Some people ... can make something dramatic by the inflections of their voices, without shouting," Arledge said. "Jim's not just somebody yelling at you. He has a sense of words, a sense of the drama of the moment."
Sportscaster Mike Tirico recalled that at his home when growing up in New York "dinner wasn't served until 'Wide World of Sports' was over." Tirico went on work at four British Opens with McKay.
"I remember him more than anything standing on some ski slope with snow falling around him and covering some downhill ski event somewhere in the world, whether it was the Olympics or not," Los Angeles Lakers coach Phil Jackson said from the NBA finals in Boston. Jackson said McKay changed "our view of sports and our world experience of sports."