Whatever happened to 'agony of defeat' ski jumper?

August 15, 2016, 6:10 PM

— -- It's been nearly half a century since the term "agony of defeat" joined the lexicon of American sports.

To this day, the phrase remains a broadcasting staple, whether it's coverage of the Olympics or any number of sports. A Google search for "agony of defeat" returns nearly 500,000 results.

With that in mind, we revisit the viral video that made an indelible mark on the sports world long before the era of social media -- the frightful ski jumping crash from the opening montage of "ABC's Wide World of Sports."

Fans of a certain age almost certainly remember the image of Slovenian athlete Vinko Bogataj wiping out on the takeoff ramp and hurtling toward a gallery of spectators. If you're too young to have seen it, here is a famed piece of sports history in 15 seconds:

Bogataj, then 22 years old and competing for Yugoslavia, suffered a concussion and a broken ankle in a terrifying tumble at the 1970 World Ski Flying Championships in Oberstdorf, West Germany. It wasn't long before ABC began using the clip of the crash to accompany the phrase "agony of defeat" in the "Wide World of Sports" introduction. With that, Bogataj became famous in the United States -- quite literally by accident.

ESPN.com recently caught up by phone with Bogataj, who only speaks a little English. His daughter Sandra translated the interview.

Bogataj remembers the crash well -- windy conditions on an icy ramp. The aftermath? Not so much.

"It was bad weather, and he had to wait around 20 minutes before he got permission to start," Sandra said. "He remembers that he couldn't see very good. The track was very bad, and just before he could jump, the snow or something grabbed his skis and he fell. From that moment, he doesn't remember anything."

The fall occurred in March 1970, and Bogataj returned to training that June. "He's a fearless guy," Sandra said.

In the ensuing years, unbeknownst to him, the fall became an iconic image in America. "He didn't have a clue he was famous," Sandra said. That changed when ABC tracked him down in Slovenia and asked him to attend a ceremony in New York to celebrate the 20th anniversary of "Wide World of Sports" in 1981.

At the gala, Bogataj received the loudest ovation among a group that included some of the best-known athletes in the world. The moment became truly surreal for Bogataj when Muhammad Ali asked for his autograph. He later met Ali several more times and became friendly with the boxing legend.

"He didn't take [Ali] seriously that he wanted an autograph, because Muhammad Ali is a really famous guy," Sandra said. "That was a special moment. Then he realized that he must be famous."

Bogataj described his unlikely journey to fame in this 1997 video interview with "Wide World of Sports."?

Now 68, Bogataj lives in Lesce, Slovenia, with wife Liliana. He's an award-winning artist, and his paintings have been exhibited in Europe and the United States. The Festival Bled 2016 is currently displaying his work at Bled Castle, an 11th-century tourist destination near his hometown.?