Silver-Tongued Jim McKay On Going for Olympic Gold


February 02, 1992|By PATRICK SANDOR

The following is a letter from Jim McKay, the ABC Sports commentator and a Maryland resident, to his grandson, James, upon the occasion of the 16th Winter Olympic Games, which begin this Saturday in France.

The woman referred to in the letter as "Mong" is James' grandmother and Jim McKay's wife, Margaret McManus. The couple's real surname is McManus and that is what their Baltimore friends usually call them. James' parents are Mr. and Mrs. Charles Fontelieu of Baltimore.

Dear James,

I know you remember the Winter Olympics in Calgary. You were only 6 years old, but you had a great time, particularly riding up and down in the hotel elevator by yourself to visit the lady at the information desk in the lobby. I know she remembers you because she still sends you a Christmas card, and postcards when she's on vacation.

I'm sure you remember the fun we had when you went to the TV studio with me and teased our director, Roger Goodman, and helped me write my pieces for the show.

It was a great time, but it was a 6-year-old time.

Now you are 10 and another Olympic Winter Games is here.

This time, I think you will enjoy knowing more about the Games themselves, and what they are about.

They mostly are about pride -- pride in yourself and pride in your country. I don't mean fake pride, the kind where a person thinks they should be proud because they have a lot of money or because God happened to make them good-looking or because their great-great-grandfather did something special.

I mean the kind of pride we feel when we have set ourselves a goal and worked as hard as we can to achieve it, as you did when you won Rookie of the Year in Little League last summer or when you did those terrific paintings that you gave to Mong and me for our Christmas present.

That's the kind of pride I mean. That's why a man named Baron Pierre de Coubertin, who started the Olympics, said the most important thing wasn't to win, but to take part. That's why an older man named Sir Francis Chichester, after sailing around the world alone in a small boat, said that it wasn't the achievement that he enjoyed, but the trying. "Victory means nothing," he said. "It's the trying that counts."

Well, victory in the Olympics means a lot to most people, but it's still the trying that counts.

Maybe you remember an English ski jumper in Calgary. Some people made fun of him, because he wasn't a good ski jumper at all. They called him "Eddie the Eagle" and laughed at him behind his back. But Eddie didn't laugh. He was there to take part and he tried as hard as he could. For the rest of his life, he can remember that he took part in the Olympics, just as Baron de Coubertin said.

I know you remember the Jamaica bobsled team.

They were four guys from a tropical island who trained for bobsledding by pushing a cart on wheels around the parking lot of a shopping mall. They came to Calgary and their sled turned over on them and they were about the slowest of all, but they made thousands of friends and went home singing a happy island song.

Sitting in the heat at home, they had a dream of sliding down an icy slope in the Olympics at 90 miles an hour, and they made it come true.

VTC I think back to the first Winter Games I covered for TV, at Innsbruck, Austria, in 1964. The United States didn't have a very strong team, and it looked as if we might not win a single gold medal. But one morning at the speed skating rink, I watched Terry McDermott lace on his boots for the 500-meter sprint. Terry was a barber from Bay City, Mich., and wasn't thought to have a chance of beating the time already recorded by the Soviet world champion, a man named Grishin.

Terry wasn't that good.

In addition, he was the last starter in the field, and the late-morning sun had started to melt the ice, making it very slow. Terry didn't worry about that. He just went out and skated his best, and won America's only gold medal of the 1964 games.

Then he went back to Bay City and started to cut people's hair again.

Every four years he comes to the Winter Olympics and when I see him, I smile and give him the thumbs-up sign. So does he, as we remember that day when he tried harder than anyone else.

Don't misunderstand me, James. I also admire the great athletes, the favorites who sometimes dominate the games.

There was Jean-Claude Killy, the handsome young French ski racer who won all three men's Alpine skiing gold medals in Grenoble, 1968. He became famous all over the world, but he always remembered that he came from a tiny mountain village named Val d'Isere, where his father owned a small ski shop.

Long after he became famous, Jean-Claude still would sometimes work in the shop when he came home, trying ski boots on customers.

"Why not," he said to Mong and me one day. "This is my father's shop."

Today, Jean-Claude is president of the committee running the Winter Games and the skiing events are being held in his hometown.

"You must always remember where you came from," he says.

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