Videos of the Week – ABC's Wide World of Sports

Thanks to ESPN, this show doesn’t exist anymore. Ok, maybe I’m judgmental in saying ESPN killed this show since the Wide World title reappeared during ESPN/ABC’s coverage of the Belmont Stakes last year, but the program hasn’t been on the air in full since the late 1990’s when ESPN took over ABC Sports. But we take a look at some of the opening sequences and sports the show used to air. It premiered in 1961 as a summer series, but lasted all the way until 1998. Jim McKay was the main host until 1987. ABC used a whole plethora of hosts including Frank Gifford and Robin Roberts until the show’s end in 1998.

The show the first to bring Wimbledon, the ACC Tournament, the Daytona 500, the Indianapolis 500, track & field, figure skating, barrel jumping, rodeo, bowling and so many more sports to American television.

I loved this show. It aired Saturday’s at 5 p.m., running until 6:30 p.m. Then ABC moved the show up a half hour to 4:30 p.m. to accommodate local news. Here are some various openings and events that aired on the show.

This is pretty cool. During the Pro Bowlers Tour (another great program from ABC that’s no longer with us), the late Chris Schenkel talks about a new Wide World of Sports book. This dates back to 1966. Holy frijoles!

From 1967, this is Evel Knievel’s first jump on Wide World. He would be a staple on Wide World of Sports through the late 1970’s.

Here’s an opening from 1974.

I don’t have to use notes to recognize the athletes in this open. The figure skater in 1972 Olympics bronze medalists Janet Lynn, the boxer is George Foreman, the infamous “agony of defeat” ski jumper Vinko Bogataj who was more famous here than in his own country of Slovenia, Irish hurlers, Brazilian soccer legend Pele, I don’t remember the pole vaulter, but I believe that was from the Melrose Games in New York, Ken Norton and Muhammed Ali fighting, I don’t know who the skiers were, the racing sequence is from the Indianapolis 500, swimmer Mark Spitz, gymnast Olga Korbut from an exhibition at Madison Square Garden and then a point of view camera from the Grand Prix of Monaco. Why I know so many scenes is beyond me.

Let’s jump to 1977.

The opening scene is from a skiing event, overhead shot of Madison Square Garden, Great Wall of China, Grand Prix of Monaco, I guess that’s Larry Mahan in the rodeo scene, Little League World Series, Vinko again, barrel jumping, Olga Korbut, Dorothy Hamill from the 1976 Olympics, Evel Knievel, Ali/Frazier II, I don’t know who the swimmers are, I think that’s from the Kentucky Derby, same skiers I don’t know, then various stock footage.

To 1988 and a promo for Wide World. Note that the program still had some goofy events.

From 1991, ABC celebrated 30 years of Wide World of Sports with Jim McKay and Frank Gifford. The sound isn’t that great in this clip so you may have to turn up the volume depending on your computer.

From that same 30th Anniversary special, here’s a profile of Vinko.

And one more clip from the special, a look at how Evel Knievel played a big role in the history of Wide World.

In 1996, the opening became much shorter. Jim McKay’s intro is still intact though.

Sad to see if you ask me.

And that’s will do it. I could go into the boxing segments with Howard Cosell and Muhammed Ali, but that’s for another week. That’s it for now. Back later with Sunday links.

Ken Fang

About Ken Fang

Ken has been covering the sports media in earnest at his own site, Fang's Bites since May 2007 and at Awful Announcing since March 2013. He provides a unique perspective having been an award-winning radio news reporter in Providence and having worked in local television. Fang celebrates the three Boston Red Sox World Championships in the 21st Century, but continues to be a long-suffering Cleveland Browns fan.