The Agony of Defeat
by Noah Hefley
I ran across an interesting article that I wanted to share with you along the line of last Sunday’s sermon on past defeats…
You might remember the TV program “The Wide World of Sports”. For many years, the opening of the program opened like this: “Spanning the globe to bring you the constant variety of sport; the thrill of victory… and the agony of defeat.” The opening illustrated “the agony of defeat” with a painful ending to an attempted ski jump. The skier appeared in good form as he headed down the jump, but then, for no apparent reason, he tumbled head over heels off the side of the jump, bouncing off the supporting structure, and crashing through a light retaining fence near a crowd of stunned spectators before coming to a halt below. Despite the intensity of the crash, the ski jumper suffered only a mild concussion.
Here’s the rest of the story. Vinko Bogataj was competing as a Yugoslavian entrant at the Ski-jumping World Championships in Oberstdorf, Germany on March 21, 1970. A light snow had begun falling at the start of the event and by the time Bogataj was ready for his third jump, the snow had become quite heavy. Midway down the ramp, Bogataj realized that the conditions had made the ramp too fast. He attempted to lower his center of gravity and stop his jump, but instead lost his balance completely.
It is likely that Vinko Bogataj’s crash would have remained obscure had a film crew from Wide World of Sports not been on hand to record the event. The show featured an opening narration by host Jim McKay over a montage of sports clips, and the producer inserted the footage of Bogataj’s tremendous tumble to coincide with the words “…and the agony of defeat.”
The melodrama of the narration–which became a catchphrase in the U.S.–and the sympathetic pain of watching Bogataj wipe out week after week, transformed the uncredited ski jumper into an American icon of failure. Meanwhile, having retired to his quiet, private life in Slovenia, Vinko Bogataj was unaware of his celebrity and so was quite confused to be asked to attend the 20th anniversary celebration for Wide World of Sports in 1981. He was stunned when other, more famous athletes present, such as Muhammad Ali, asked him for his autograph. Today, Bogataj still lives in his hometown of Lesce, Slovenia. He is married and has two daughters.
What viewers didn’t know was that Bogataj chose to fall rather than finish the jump. Why? As he explained later, the jump surface had become too fast, and midway down the ramp, he realized if he completed the jump, he would land on the level ground, beyond the safe sloping landing area, which could have been fatal. Surprisingly, the skier suffered no more than a headache from the tumble. (Dave Rigg)
Life has a way of forcing us to change our course in what can be a dramatic, if not painful event. But it is better than a fatal landing. And in the end we can come back from such a defeat to have the thrill of a good and victorious life. It’s a good lesson to learn from The Wide World of Sports.
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