MAKING FRIENDS AROUND THE GLOBE. Mike Holland (R) with Vinko Bogataj in Planica, Yugoslavia in 1986. Mike had set a world distance record in 1985 and Vinko, the official starter in Planica (and iconic in the US as the agony of defeat skier), had a very personal and appropriate gift waiting for Mike the next year.
“The Agony of Defeat” became a household term following the 1970 World Ski Flying Championships in Oberstdorf, Germany. There, Yugoslavian ski jumper Vinko Bogataj, became a part of sports history. As Vinko entered the R1 of the massive Heini Klopfer ski flying hill, he appeared to tip over on the inrun for no apparent reason. ABC announcer Art Devlin gasped as Vinko flipped off the takeoff and bounced off the ground while his skis shattered across the television screen. Vinko’s limp body disappeared into the crowd.
ABC adopted footage of Vinko’s dramatic crash as their symbol of defeat and ran it in the lead up to weekly sports broadcast; “Spanning the globe, to bring you the constant variety of sports…the thrill of victory…and the agony of defeat…the human drama of athletic competition…this is ABC’s Wide World of Sports!”
Fifteen years later, I met Vinko at the top of Planica’s ski flying hill as I prepared to take my first jump (photo below) in official training at the 1985 World Ski Flying Championships. Vinko worked as the “Starter” in the competition while communicating by walkie-talkie with officials monitoring wind conditions below.
When our team returned to the ski jumping complex in Planica for the World Cup Final the following year, Vinko approached me in the parking lot (photo below). He shook my hand and with a warm smile presented me with a gift – a painting he made (below).
After retiring from the sport, Bogataj was unaware of his celebrity and was surprised to be asked to attend the 20th anniversary celebration for Wide World of Sports in 1981. He received the loudest ovation of any athlete introduced at the gala, and attendees such as Muhammad Ali asked him for his autograph.
His paintings have won awards and have been exhibited in both Europe and the U.S.
Bogataj resides in his hometown of Lesce, Slovenia. He is married and has two daughters.
Many explain that Vinko suffered a middle ear infection during the ski flying competition in 1970 compromising his balance and explaining while he fell. While it appeared that Vinko was critically injured or died from the crash he only suffered a mild concussion and a broken ankle.