The Olympic Games aired in the United States on the broadcast network ABC during the 1960s to the 1980s. ABC first televised the Winter Olympic Games in 1964, and the Summer Olympic Games in 1968. ABC last televised the Summer Olympics in 1984 and Winter Olympics in 1988.
While CBS aired both the 1960 Winter and Summer Games (marking the first time that the Olympics were broadcast on American television), by 1964, a different network showed the Winter Games: ABC. Roone Arledge won broadcast rights for his network and began a relationship with the "five rings" that would last over two decades. The program used many of the same production staff from ABC's Wide World of Sports, as well as the same host, Jim McKay, who moved to ABC from CBS in 1961. In 1968, ABC showed both the Winter Games and the Summer Games.
The 1964 Winter Games were in Innsbruck, Austria, and coverage was taped and flown by plane back to the United States. All of it was in black-and-white, but with most Winter Olympic events in the morning (local time), most TV coverage aired the day the events were held.
By 1968, ABC was broadcasting the Olympics in full color, and satellites made possible live coverage of several events at the Winter Games in Grenoble, France and of nearly all of the network's coverage of the Summer Games in Mexico City.
Highlighting the 1968 Winter Games was a dramatic sweep in men's alpine skiing by Frenchman Jean-Claude Killy, while the major highlight of the Summer Games was a world-record long jump by Bob Beamon of the United States, which happened to air live in the U.S.
In 1972, NBC showed the Winter Games from Sapporo, Japan, then ABC returned to carry the Summer Games in Munich, Germany. It was during the Summer Games that Palestinian terrorists attacked the Olympic Village and killed 11 Israeli athletes. Although Chris Schenkel was the actual host of the Games that year, Arledge assigned the story to McKay largely because he was a local news anchor in Baltimore, Maryland prior to joining CBS (and later ABC). McKay was joined on set by ABC news correspondent (and former and future evening news anchor) Peter Jennings, and coverage continued for many hours until the outcome was known. McKay later won an Emmy Award for his coverage.
By the time the 1976 edition came around, McKay was now installed at the host, a role he would play throughout the 1970s and '80s. ABC also aired the 1980 Winter Olympics.
Chuck Mangione's instrumental song "Give It All You Got" was originally featured as the official theme of the 1980 Winter Olympics, held in Lake Placid, New York. ABC had used Mangione's recordings four years earlier during their coverage of the 1976 Summer Olympics, and then-ABC Sports president Roone Arledge asked the musician to create the theme song for the Winter games. Mangione also performed the song live at the Closing Ceremonies on February 24.
The 1980 Winter Olympics was perhaps most notable for the "Miracle on Ice". The "Miracle on Ice" was a medal-round men's ice hockey game Lake Placid, New York, on February 22. The United States team, made up of amateur and collegiate players and led by coach Herb Brooks, defeated the Soviet team, which was considered the best hockey team in the world. The rest of the United States (except those who watched the game live on Canadian television) had to wait to see the game, as ABC decided to broadcast the late-afternoon game on tape delay in prime time. Sportscaster Al Michaels, who was calling the game on ABC along with former Montreal Canadiens goalie Ken Dryden, picked up on the countdown in his broadcast, and delivered his famous call:
The Opening and Closing Ceremonies of the 1984 Summer Olympics, and 1988 Winter Olympics were hosted on ABC by Jim McKay and Peter Jennings.
ABC Sports also covered the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia, and the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, USA. The 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, Alberta, Canada are the most recent Olympics to be covered by ABC Sports.
After that, the network, at the insistence of new owner Capital Cities Communications (much to the chagrin of Roone Arledge's successor at ABC Sports, Dennis Swanson), opted not to bid for the rights to show any future Games. Subsequently, The Walt Disney Company acquired Capital Cities-ABC in 1995 and began the process of putting more effort into the branding of ABC's sports channel ESPN than of ABC Sports itself.
In August 2008, ESPN, which now holds control of ABC's sports division (now known as ESPN on ABC), asserted that they would make a serious bid for the 2014 games in Sochi, Russia and the 2016 games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. However, NBC won the rights to American television coverage of the Olympics through the 2020 Summer Games.
On May 7, 2014, NBC now holds control of the Olympic television coverage in the United States through 2032 Summer Games.