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WINTER OLYMPICS | WHERE ARE THEY NOW?

Bogataj Fell Into Fame

February 09, 2002|Diane Pucin

It is the enduring image of ABC's "Wide World of Sports."

Vinko Bogataj, a 22-year-old from Yugoslavia, hurtles off the ski jump at the 1970 International Ski Flying Championships in Obertsdorf, West Germany, over the bales of hay that were supposed to provide a soft landing, tumbles head over skis and lands with a thud. It was part of the opening montage of the popular television show, and it was always accompanied by an announcer's deep voice saying, "and the agony of defeat."

Jim McKay, who is working for NBC at the 2002 Winter Olympics, has always said that the most-asked question of him is: What ever happened to the hapless skier?

Bogataj is alive and well and living in Lesce, Slovenia. He is the father of two daughters, Monica and Sandra, and the husband of Lilijana. After working in a foundry for much of his life, Bogataj, who turns 54 next month, owns a truck and drives around Slovenia, Croatia, Germany and Austria delivering manufacturing equipment.

He also paints oil and water-color landscapes that are good enough to be sold around town.

This information comes courtesy of his oldest daughter, Monica, 28, who is a veterinarian technician and who answered the phone at the Bogataj home.

Her father, she said, was driving his truck. But since he doesn't speak English so well, Monica was happy to tell of her father's life and fame.

"He is not so famous in Slovenia," Monica said, "but in America it is a completely different story. He was, three times, in America. The first time came when ABC brought our family to New York and for the first time my father found out that he was famous. He did not believe it, I don't think."

Monica traveled around the U.S. for six weeks in 1998 and found that wherever she was, whoever she was with, if someone found out she was the daughter of the "Agony of Defeat" guy, "they all wanted to talk to me. They want to know if my dad was hurt and if he still skis."

Her dad was hurt, bumps and bruises mostly and a pain in his ankle, Monica says. And he still does some ski jumping, "mostly for fun," Monica said.

Vinko began ski jumping as a small boy. "My dad built his own ski jump behind the house, all by himself. Then he started going to the local ski jumping club.

"When I look at the video of his fall, it is kind of amazing and when we came to the U.S. for the first time, none of us could believe how everybody wanted to meet my dad. All from that one fall. Here at home, hardly anybody knows about it. Here my dad is just a truck driver."

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Diane Pucin

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