Tuesday, September 4, 2012

ABC coverage of the "imposter" at the 1972 Olympic marathon

Here is my review of the episode in the ESPN Classic series on the 1972 Munich games which focused on the Olympic marathon. Jim McKay called the action for ABC with Erich Segal as "expert commentator" which was the term ABC used for its Olympic analysts. Segal was an author best known for writing the novel Love Story, but he was also a recreational runner and had raced in the Boston Marathon many times.

ABC televised the start of the marathon live and the episode began with that footage. The special then showed an interview Segal had conducted with Shorter while the two were running. Segal taught at Yale where Shorter had been one of his students. Host Chris Schenkel voiced over some of the mid-race footage.

But the most memorable aspect of this event took place near the end of the race when a West German student wearing a running uniform with the number 72 emerged from the tunnel onto the stadium track ahead of leader Frank Shorter and pretended to be winning the race.

Segal was noticeably upset at what was unfolding and his emotional commentary is priceless and worth a viewing: "That is an imposter! Get him off the track! ... This happens in bush league marathons! ... Throw the bum out! ... Get rid of that guy!" A bit later, he personalizes his on-air remarks: "Come on Frank! You won it! ... It's a fake, Frank!"

ESPN committed an embarassing gaffe by superimposing a graphic reading "voice of Eric Siegel" which botched the spelling of both his first and last names. ESPN Classic will provide multiple re-airigs of this 30-minute episode as it doing for all shows in this series.

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