We're between Olympics, but Home Box Office and Showtime have come up with a couple of well-done specials that will help keep the flame burning until the youth of the world convenes in Athens in 2004. Each features an icon of Olympics coverage: ABC Sports anchor Jim McKay and producer Bud Greenspan.
HBO will offer Jim McKay: My World in My Words, a retrospective of the ABC Sports anchor and his contributions to the alphabet network's Wide World of Sports
and sports in general. Mean-while, Showtime will showcase the seventh installment of Greenspan's Stories of Olympic Glory
franchise, which he wrote and produced and which Will Lyman once again narrates.
From this vantage point, McKay in front of the camera and Roone Arledge behind it represent the finest in Olympics coverage, so that's the part of the HBO special I found most interesting. McKay's steady anchoring was severely tested during the 1972 Summer Olympics, disrupted when Arab terrorists killed members of the Israeli team.
As McKay told viewers then, "Our worst fears have been realized. They're all gone."
Munich was the pinnacle of McKay's career, but his storytelling skills also graced ABC's coverage of nine other Olympics. That grew out of his desire to "explore the human side of sports," as he explains on his special, in which McKay as writer and narrator gives himself the up-close-and-personal treatment.
Greenspan's documentary profiles six athletes with compelling stories at the year-ago Salt Lake City Winter Olympics. Each is brought home through strong editing and skillful narration.
His first segment features Jimmy Shea, who represents a third generation in Winter Olympics competition. Shea's pursuit of a medal in skeleton was made all the more emotional when his grandfather, a gold medalist 70 years earlier (for speedskating), was killed in a car accident shortly before the Games.
Most of the features detail comebacks, like the United States-Canada hockey game — in which National Hockey League stars like Mario Lemieux helped deliver Canada's first gold medal in that country's national sport, after a 50-year drought — or like Italy's Stefania Belmondo, whose last gold medal in cross-country skiing was a decade ago.
Other stories involve longshots who overcame incredible odds.
HBO's McKay profile airs today, Feb. 24, at 10 p.m. Showtime will premiere Salt Lake 2002: Bud Greenspan's Stories of Olympic Glory on March 3 at 9 p.m.