Monday, October 5, 2009

Here's to You, Mr. Bogataj

Vinko Bogataj.

Chances are you don't recognize the name. But while the name itself might not ring a bell, I'm pretty certain that you know who Vinko is, and you're probably familiar with his singularly spectacular claim to fame.

Vinko Bogataj was born in Slovenia in 1950. He had a relatively normal European childhood, and I'm sure his parents doted upon little Vinkie and cherished his every word, as parents do. Sometime during his teenage years, the adolescent Vinko made a fateful decision, setting in motion a chain of events that would forever secure his place in history.

Vinko took up ski jumping.

On March 21, 1970, Vinko Bogataj was entered in the Ski Flying World Championships in Oberstdorf, Germany. A light snow had begun to fall, and when the time came for Vinko's third jump, the ramp had become quite treacherous. As he hurtled downward, he realized that the weather conditions had significantly enslickened the ramp, causing him to go much faster than he had anticipated. He lowered his center of gravity in an effort to abort his descent. Instead of stopping, however, Vinko lost his balance and fell to the ground, where he ceased being a ski jumper and instead transformed into a 155-pound helmeted projectile hurtling off the ramp, crashing to the ground, bouncing into a crowd of stunned observers, and miraculously suffering no more than a mild concussion and a compound fracture of his self-esteem.

All of which would have long since been forgotten had an ABC Sports film crew not been taping the event.

You've guessed it. Vinko Bogataj is "The Agony of Defeat Guy."

Imagine what this would be like. You make a single mistake, and you are remembered for that one thing and nothing else for the rest of your life. And it's not like this was some horrific event, either. It's one thing when you're Joseph Hazelwood and your one mistake was getting shit-faced and wrecking an oil tanker causing a spill of epic proportions, killing marine life in the area and disrupting the balance of nature. One wouldn't expect a gaffe like that to slip by unnoticed. Or Custer, whose one mistake led to his troops being massacred at Little Big Horn. That was an historic event.

But that's not the case with poor Vinko. Vinko didn't turn the ocean into an oil slick. Vinko didn't cause soldiers to die. Vinko didn't slaughter college girls, plan an attack on the World Trade Center, or fire a rifle from the Texas School Book Depository.

Vinko fell down.

For the next thirty years, the opening sequence of ABC's Wide World of Sports featured Jim McKay's narrative accompanying a series of video clips. "Spanning the globe, bringing you the constant variety of sport. The thrill of victory. The agony . . . of defeat."

Every season, "the thrill of victory" was different. Muhammad Ali raising his arms after a knockout. A.J. Foyt taking the checkered flag at Indy. A bunch of kids from Connecticut winning the Little League World Series. But "the agony of defeat" remained unchanged. Vinko Bogataj flew off the ramp in Oberstdorf 52 times a year for thirty painful years. Good grief.

Ironically, and I suppose fortunately, Vinko Bogataj was oblivious to his informal induction into the Screw Up Hall of Fame. Having retired to a quiet life in Slovenia, he was blissfully unaware of ABC's Wide World of Sports and was therefore quite surprised when, decades later, he was invited to be on the 30th Anniversary special.

For the love of God, I hope they briefed him ahead of time.

But what if they didn't? I can only imagine, a tuxedo-clad Vinko sitting in a palatial ballroom at the MGM Grand, gazing up at the dais where he sees ABC executives and assorted celebrities. Perhaps he's seated at an elegant table, complete with ABC centerpieces and embossed place cards, eating rubber chicken and sipping iced tea with Dorothy Hamill, Evel Knievel and Bruce Jenner. All of a sudden, the lights dim, a hush falls over the ballroom, and Jim McKay's voice booms over the speakers.


Theme music kicks in.

Oh boy, thinks Vinko. Ziss is incredible! Whole show devoted entirely to zee sports world. I had no idea such thing even existed. And I'm sitting right next to zee Evel Knievel! I vunder if I can get his autograph later, yes? Whatta country!


Vinko sits, eyes wide, his attention on the big screen. Zee thrill of victory, yes! There's Mary Lou Retton getting gold medal . . . Ali scoring big knockout . . . how cool vood be to appear on zee video celebrating victory, no? Zee big honor!


Hey, what the . . . "AUUGGGH!!!"

In honor of Vinko Bogataj, I think you should all take a moment and share a personal screwup with a friend, and have a good chuckle at your own expense. After all, everybody makes mistakes and we shouldn't have to live with one small goof our whole life. Unburden yourself. Whether it's a huge, public disaster like the Exxon Valdez, or a small, private faux pas. Maybe you got pantsed in front of the girl you had the hots for. Perhaps you took a header, and face-planted yourself in the punch bowl at your sister's Bat Mitzvah. Whatever your blunder, understand that you're not alone.

Just remember Vinko. Remember him fondly.

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moooooog35 said...

This would be easier to do if I wasn't so damned perfect.

Knucklehead said...

@Moog: Uh huh.

Grumpy, M.D. said...

Oddly, I saw that interview with him on the 30th anniversary show. He seemed entirely oblivious to the whole thing, and it didn't seem to phase him.

Watching it I got the impression that he was just thinking about how weird Americans are, to be making such a big deal over it.

Suldog said...

Loved this post in its original incarnation (on the blog that no longer exists) and loved it then. Still love it now. Great job.

CatLadyLarew said...

Poor Vinko. As far as writing about an epic fail of my own goes... so many fails, so little time.

Mike said...

That sunny D story seems awfully familiar ;)

Pollyanna said...

Epic failure as a parent, spouse, child, employee, friend, human in general? I have so many to choose from, I'm afraid I'll need you to narrow down the subject requirements :)

Jenn said...

One of my absolute favorites of yours. I think its because you were so easily able to nickname him Vinkie like you two grew up together or something.

Lamaworks said...

Great story and I grew up always wondering how hurt he was. I loved that crash and now I have the name for the trivia question that I will tell people.

One of my most embarassing moments is getting drunk and ruining a senior week cruise for 500 kids in Bermuda...i'll have to blog about that one...

nonamedufus said...

That guy's a legend to unconditioned misfits everywhere. And the music as he careens off the side of the jump...blah, blahhm, BLAHHHH. Poor guy, great post Knucklehead.

Beth said...

So, do you drink Sunny D? And I wonder if Vinka ever skis?

I screw up everyday. The trick is to quickly point it out before others get to. On that note, I have a few classrooms where I'd like to stack some boxes of Sunny D.

otin said...

I remember watching that and saying to my dad,"I wonder how that guy feels seeing himself fall every week!"

My Dad told me that he was dead? Nice research, Dad! LOL

Raine said...

Poor guy!

Dave said...

I need to share. I started a so-called humor blog and have to relive its humiliation every time I log on. I am the Vinko of funny. Sigh.

Chrissy said...

Funny! I never knew the history. I LOVED WW of Sports. You would think I was athletic or something.

Fragrant Liar said...

Vinko, Vinko, Vinko. I so remember Vinko flailing and flipping and crumbling and crashing every weekend for years. I don't want him to ever change.

Pearl said...

Poor Vinko.

On the other hand, he's a childhood memory for me, and how many European ski-jumpin' men can say that? Not many.

Not many.


p.s. Found you again. Loved the original blog. You can't lose me that easily.

Quirkyloon said...

Ha! So where's the part where Vinko sues for past royalties?

Nicely done, as always, Mr. K!

hee hee

Candice said...

I had no idea who Vinko was before I finished this blog, and now I feel so educated.

I'm trying to think of a time that I screwed up, but I'm having a hard time coming up with just one.

I'll get back with you.

Jeanne said...

I'm adding you to my (phenomenally overcrowded) blogroll, so I remember to come visit more often.

MikeWJ at Too Many Mornings said...

Once again, you've pulled off a great post, Knucklehead. I used to wait breathlessly for that moment on the show when Vinko plummeted off that ramp, which I actually visited when I was a kid. It's hard to believe he survived.

Oh, and don't worry too much about the orange juice. Sunny Delight's doing just fine. And so are you.

Candy's daily Dandy said...

I've got one name for you:

Bill Buckner.

The dude world was totally screwed for LIFE.
The Sox let him throw out the first pitch on opening day this year and the crowd gave him a standing O. The guy bawled like a baby...

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