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.
"SPANNING THE GLOBE, BRINGING YOU THE CONSTANT VARIETY OF SPORT. . . "
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!
"THE THRILL OF VICTORY . . . "
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!
"THE AGONY . . . OF DEFEAT."
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.
Monday, October 5, 2009