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Let me tell you about one of the most-watched sprint races in history – at least in American history to an American audience. Sportswriter Bill Simmons calls it his favorite YouTube clip. It’s not his favorite track and field YouTube clip or his favorite sports YouTube clip, it’s just flat-out his favorite YouTube clip of all-time. To do this, we need to look back at the 1970s. That was the time of Olympic-style competition on television. To understand why, you have to think about the fact that there was much less television to be watched at the time. There were just three networks and cable TV was basically a non-entity. There was not a whole lot of televised sports. The NBA had one game a week. Major League Baseball had one game a week. Hockey was still a regional sport. The NCAA held a bit of control over how much basketball and football was broadcast on television. They kept a pretty tight lid on that.
One of the few exceptions to this was the Olympics. They were a two-week-long celebration of sports on television. In 1968, there was live satellite coverage of Olympic competition for the first time. It also happened to be taking place in U.S. primetime. That happened again in 1976.
ABC had lost its NBA TV contract to broadcast one game per week and they were looking for something else. A man named Dick Button had an idea. He wanted to take 10 athletes from 10 different sports and threw them all together in a decathlon-style competition. It was a hit so then they tried it with celebrities for the 1976 debut of Battle of the Network Stars.
This is the Track and Field History Podcast with Jesse Squire. Subscribe and catch all the latest episodes on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and Anchor. Got anything you’d like to hear on the show? Shoot us an email [email protected] or tweet at @tracksuperfan.
Here’s an update on their friendship in 2018:
Discussing the rematch. pic.twitter.com/7NMWv9qC05
— Gabe Kaplan (@GabeKaplan) October 3, 2018