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On This Date in Sports April 29, 1961: Wide World of Sports

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Wide World of Sports debuts on ABC Television with the Penn and Drake Relays. Hosted by Jim McKay for most of its 37-year run, the sports anthology series would bring a variety of sports into the homes of American viewers. The show was best known for its opening line, which said it was spanning the globe to find the “Thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.”

Wide World of Sports went beyond the traditional American past times and sports that were popular in the early days of television. It showcased almost every type of sporting event over the entire world. ABC used the show to bring Wimbledon to American Television. It was the show that first aired the NCAA Tournament. It also featured the first airing of the events surrounding the Indianapolis 500 and the Daytona 500, along with the Little League World Series. As each event grew in popularity, they spun off and broadcast on their own strength.

In the days before cable television, it was Wide World of Sports that became the haven for the sports fan. The opening became famous for its clip shown while mentioning the agony of defeat as ski jumper Vinko Bogatai had a horrific wipeout during a competition in 1970. Daredevil Evel Knievel became an American Icon due to the Wide World of Sports, as the show featured many of his most daring stunts.

In many ways, Wide World of Sports helped pave the way for ESPN. Ironically, the growth of ESPN and the boom of televised spots on cable would ultimately lead to the end of Wide World of Sports. As more events went on cable, there was less need for a showcase on the weekend. By the 1990’s fewer and fewer shows carried the banner Wide World of Sports.

While the show was officially canceled in 1998, the name continued to be used for a variety of events over the next two years, including a countdown of the greatest athletes of the 20th century. The final show to carry the banner was unveiling the top two athletes of the century, with Babe Ruth being number two and Michael Jordan being voted number one, while the 1999 Little League World Series was the last live event in August.