- Jim Mckay
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It was 30 years ago that Jim McKay was the anchor for ABC Sports' coverage of the Olympic Games in Munich. He sat down with ABC Sports for its documentary "Our Greatest Hopes, Our Worst Fears: The Tragedy of the Munich Games". Here is a transcript of what he had to say.
What happened on September 5th changed an awful lot of people, including me, in the most basic way we'd never imagined or dreamed. That was the first thing we saw live.
That day was the end of innocence in sports, and it also might have been the beginning of tight security. It was also the end of innocence for all of us. We thought nothing compared to that could ever, ever happen and it was the climax of what started in Munich.
The Germans were determined to have a very soft and pleasant Olympics. They wore light blue, opening ceremonies flowers, and the first week went very well. Little Olga Korbut had been a substitute on the Soviet team. On the first night, she was practicing and suddenly the analyst said, "Oh, my, wow." No human had ever done it before. Doug Wilson called Roone Arledge and said we may need more time. She went out and dazzled the world. The next night she went out and on the same piece of equipment, she fell apart. On the third night she went out and was unbelievable again and won gold.
My whole family was in Munich. Our son had to go home, but our daughter stayed and she was at the fence when the heli took off. And she said it looked so close you could almost touch them, but there's nothing anyone could do in the end. And, of course, there wasn't.
These were athletes in the old Olympic tradition. They were amateurs. Almost from the first minute I was on the air, I thought about a young man named David Berger, who had immigrated to Israel because he wanted to be in the Olympic. It just made the whole thing worse and worse.
A producer called me early in the morning of Sept. 5 and said terrorists had broken into the Olympic Village, and to get right over because we were going on the air in 45 minutes. When he called to tell me what was going on, I was in the sauna. I had just taken a swim. I just put on my clothes and went out there. I still had a bathing suit on under my clothes.
Roone told me he selected me to do this because I had been a newspaper reporter, not a sports reporter. He knew I had been a reporter and wanted me in the studio so I wasn't scared.
I realized in the end, I am going to be the person who is going to tell David Berger's family whether he is alive or dead.
When they boarded the helicopter, I don't believe they had any idea where they were going. We didn't know about the plan that they would lure the terrorists. They told them they would give them an airplane. When the hostages got on the airplane that night, the plan there was for German snipers to take them out.
A wire service reported that night that all the hostages had been saved. But German TV was wrong. Saying the words, "They're all gone" was the hardest thing I had to do in television. I always wondered if I had done it sensibly enough, so I replied to Dorothy Berger (David's mother) and she wrote me another time since then.
I remembered on that night in Munich what my father had said to me once: "Our greatest hopes and our worst fears are seldom realized until they're all gone." It was the quickest way I could summarize what happened.
I didn't cry about it. It was a professional situation and I had to keep being professional because I had to get up in two hours to be at the memorial service.
That turned out to be the most important day of my career. Suddenly, as I was walking from our headquarters to the memorial service, I was given a yellow slip saying "You were a great credit to your medium … and to yourself," signed Walter (Cronkite).
James Thurber wrote a story one time that said in the beginning there was one boy and one girl and one flower and in time everything was destroyed except there is still one boy, one girl and one flower.
At that time I thought there can never be anything as horrific as this to happen again.
This year it's been very difficult to be an optimist. But I try to remember that most people are pretty nice, and I've always remembered a sign I saw on the wall of a terrible little sandwich shop someplace and it said, "Be kind because everyone you will meet today is fighting his own battle."
The hardest thing I had to do in television.