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NEW YORK – Jim McKay, the veteran and eloquent sportscaster thrust into the role of reporting on tragedy at the 1972 Munich Olympics, has died. He was 86.
McKay died Saturday of natural causes at his farm in Monkton, Md. The broadcaster who considered horse racing his favourite sport died only hours before Big Brown attempted to win a Triple Crown at the Belmont Stakes.
He was host of ABC’s influential “Wide World of Sports” for more than 40 years, starting in 1961. The weekend series introduced viewers to all manner of strange, compelling and far-flung sports events.
McKay also covered 12 Olympics, but none more memorably than the Summer Games in Munich, Germany. He was the anchor when events turned grim with the news that Palestinian terrorists kidnapped 11 Israeli athletes. It was left to McKay to tell viewers when a commando raid to rescue the athletes ended in tragedy.
“They’re all gone,” McKay said.
He won both a news and sports Emmy Award for his coverage of the Munich Olympics in addition to the prestigious George Polk award.
“In the long run, that’s the most memorable single moment of my career,” said McKay, an Emmy Award winning broadcaster who was also in the studio for the United States’ “Miracle on Ice” victory over Russia. “I don’t know what else would match that.”
A veteran of the U.S. navy in the Second World War, McKay was the first on-air television broadcaster seen in Baltimore. He worked at CBS Sports briefly, but did his most memorable work at ABC Sports when it dominated the business under leader Roone Arledge.
“He had a remarkable career and a remarkable life,” said Sean McManus, McKay’s son and the president of CBS News and Sports. “Hardly a day goes by when someone doesn’t come up to me and say how much they admired my father.”
McKay was the first sportscaster to win an Emmy Award. He won 12, the last in 1988. ABC calculated that McKay travelled the equivalent of about seven million kilometres to work events. He covered more than 100 different sports in 40 countries.
“There are no superlatives that can adequately honor Jim McKay,” said George Bodenheimer, president of ESPN and ABC Sports. “He meant so much to so many people. He was a founding father of sports television, one of the most respected commentators in the history of broadcasting and journalism.”
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