Remember ABC Wide World Of Sports' 'Agony Of Defeat' Guy? Ski Jumper Vinko Bogataj Facts
Yugoslavian entrant Vinko Bogataj's famous 1970 ski jump on March 21 at the World Ski Flying Championships in Obersdorf, Germany. (Photo by Walt Disney Television via Getty Images Photo Archives/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images)
If you tuned in to ABC's Wild World of Sports from 1971 onward, you're familiar with the opening sequence, in which sportscaster Jim McKay touts "the thrill of victory, and the agony of defeat." For nearly three decades, "the agony of defeat" was personified by a ski jumper's spectacular wipeout at Oberstock, Germany.
That ski jumper was Vinko Bogataj of Yugoslavia, whose brief presence on the popular show made him probably the most famous ski jumper in the world, or at least to American sports fans. Over the years, different clips were rotated in to the montage to illustrate the "thrill of victory," but Vinko Bogataj's accident remained as the "agony of defeat" through the show's end in 1998. He's the Agony of Defeat Guy, and this is his story.
Flying Into Fame
Vinko Bogotaj's rather spectacular crash occurred during the World Ski Flying Championships in Oberstdorf West Germany on March 21, 1970. This unfortunate event would have merely been a footnote in the competition, had ABC’s Wide World of Sports not been present to capture the moment for posterity. The incident also lives on in one of Rich Hall’s Sniglets: agonosis, “the syndrome of tuning in on Wide World of Sports every weekend, just to watch the skier rack himself.”
The Wide World of Sports Debuts
On April 29, 1961, ABC’s Wide World of Sports debuted, covering the Penn Relays, a track and field event at Philadelphia’s Franklin Field. The show, which typically aired on Saturdays, began with an opening montage of stylized sports shots, accompanied by a voiceover from Jim McKay:
“Spanning the globe to bring you the constant variety of sport... the thrill of victory... and the agony of defeat... the human drama of athletic competition... This is ABC's Wide World of Sports!”
The anthology show focused on the highlights from a variety of sports and competitions from around the world.
He Didn't Quite Leave The Ground
Prior to the day of the crash, Bogotaj’s greatest success occurred in 1969, when he came in 57th in the individual normal hill event at the Four Hills Tournament in Bischshofen, Austria. He entered the World Ski Flying Championship as part of the team from Yugoslavia.
On the day he crashed into notoriety, the weather was not very good; it was windy and the ramp was icy. For his first jump, after he landed the jump, he fell partway down the hill. Conditions continued to deteriorate for his second jump. As he sped down the hill, he tried to lower his center of gravity and completely lost control, crashing off the side of the ramp. Bogataj did not remember much after the accident and sustained a concussion; apparently he was ready to try again as they took him away.
He Crashed Over And Over Again
In 1971, Dennis Lewin, a former ABC executive, decided to use real shots for the opening montage from the ABC library rather than the clips they had been using. From that point, the opening montage included segments from a variety of sports, but it always ended with Vinko Bogataj’s crash as McKay said the line “and the agony of defeat.” Because of his appearance in the montage, as McKay pointed out, it was “a performance that, in time, would mean he would appear more often on 'Wide World of Sports' than anyone else."
Bogotaj had no idea that he had accidentally become famous in America. ABC found him in Slovenia (one of the countries formed in the breakup of Yugoslavia) and asked him to attend a 20th anniversary celebration in New York for the Wide World of Sports. He attended the event along with some of the world’s best athletes. While there, he met Muhammad Ali, who asked for Bogataj’s autograph. At that moment, Bogataj realized the extent of his own fame. In an interview with Terry Gannon several years after the fall, Bogataj said of his placement in the montage, "The difference between victory and defeat in sports is well said in the thoughts by Jim McKay, because the difference between the two can be very slight."
Going On To Win Awards
After the accident, he returned to ski jumping the next year, though he retired later that year. He did, however, coach the 1991 Slovenian World Champion ski jumper, Franci Petek. Bogataj married and settled in Slovenia with his wife and two daughters. He found work as a forklift operator at a factory. He managed to see a little humor in the situation, as he joked about a minor car crash he had on the way to the interview with Terry Gannon. As Bogataj said, “Every time I’m on ABC, I crash.”
Bogataj may not have won as a ski jumper, but he did win awards; he became an award-winning painter and his artwork has been displayed in Europe and the U.S.
Tags: ABC | Sports | Vinko Bogataj | What Did He Do?... | Wide World Of Sports
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