2012 Olympics: Who Is the Best Host Jim McKay or Bob Costas?

James Williams@WordmandcAnalyst IIIAugust 4, 2012

NEW ORLEANS, LA - OCTOBER 23:  NBC Commentator Bob Costas reports from the sidelines before the New Orleans Saints host the Indianapolis Colts at Mercedes-Benz Superdome on October 23, 2011 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

This week, a number of media writers led by Chicago Tribune's Phil Rosenthal started the debate "Who is the best Olympics host? Jim McKay of ABC or NBC's Bob Costas.

It is a debate that seems to come up every four years, more often during the summer games than during the winter Olympics.

For those too young to remember, McKay was a newspaper man who, with ABC Sports President Roone Arledge, developed a way covering the Olympics that still lives today at NBC. What McKay did, at the suggestion of Arledge, was use his vast talents as master storyteller to personalize the athletes.

From 1964 to 1988, ABC televising the Olympics with McKay as the host made the games the ultimate reality show. ABC made sure that viewers knew the backstories of the athletes, the coaches and the counties involved in the games.

Suddenly, there were good guys and bad guys, and like any good TV drama, there were plenty of plot lines. In this series, the plot lines came from stories developed by ABC to make sure the viewers knew the stories of how the athletes made it to the Olympics.   

The goal was, the more you knew about an athlete or a sport the more as a viewer you would care about the coverage. It was winning formula that still works very well. This formula is what attracts so many casual fans to watch the Olympic Games. 

Another factor that worked in McKay's favor in the days prior to 1992 was the Cold War.

The United States vs. Russia was always a huge Olympic drawing card. The East Germans, and other eastern block countries offered a built in "us vs. them," rivalry that was a ratings winner.

McKay will forever be remembered for his brilliant handling of the 1972 Munich Massacre, where 11 Israeli Olympic team members were murdered by the Palestinian group Black September.

There has never been an American sports broadcaster who was faced with such the task of serving as part newsman, part sports anchor. McKay's news background made him the perfect man to cover the tragic event better than another member of the ABC team in Munich.

Thus, McKay set the bar high with his soft-spoken hosting style that was solid and always professional.

Bob Costas took on the primetime hosting at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics for NBC, and he has been a fixture on both the summer and winter games ever since. Costas who is a big fan of the work done by the late McKay has been able to put his stamp on hosting the games.  

Costas uses humor much more than did McKay, and he is the king of transitioning from one storyline or live event to another, with an almost effortless style that is a great deal more difficult than he makes it look.

Costas, like McKay, is at his best when doing interviews, and as host, he handles the onset interview better than anyone in the business.

So, who is the best Olympic host of all time?

My choice would be McKay, because he set the standard that others are judged, by including Costas.

I do have a great deal of respect for what Costas does, because there are far more hours of Olympic coverage than ever before. Add to that social media and new media, which simply makes Costas' job far more complex than what McKay had to do as host.

One last thing, and that is, ABC also tape-delayed every Olympic Games that they covered, including the famous 1980 Miracle on Ice team USA victory over Russia. The game was played in the morning and aired in primetime.


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