Must read: Sportscaster, 'Wide World of Sports' host Jim McKay dies at age 86

NEW YORK - Jim McKay, the venerable and eloquent sportscaster thrust into the role of telling Americans about the tragedy at the 1972 Munich Olympics, has died. He was 86.

McKay died Saturday of natural causes at his farm in Monkton, Md., said son Sean McManus, president of CBS News and Sports. The broadcaster who considered horse racing his favorite sport died only hours before Big Brown failed in his try to win a Triple Crown at the Belmont Stakes.

He was host of ABC's influential 'Wide World of Sports' for more than 40 years, starting in 1961. The weekend series introduced viewers to all manner of strange, compelling and far-flung sports events. The show provided an international reach long before exotic backdrops became a staple of sports television.

McKay provided the famous voice-over that accompanied the opening in which viewers were reminded of the show's mission ('spanning the globe to bring you the constant variety of sports') and what lay ahead ('the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat').

McKay - understated, dignified and with a clear eye for detail - covered 12 Olympics, but none more memorably than the Summer Games in Munich, Germany. He was the anchor when events turned grim with the news that Palestinian terrorists kidnapped 11 Israeli athletes. It was left to McKay to tell Americans when a commando raid to rescue the athletes ended in tragedy.

'They're all gone,' McKay said.

The terse, haunting comment was replayed many times through the years when the events of Munich were chronicled.

'I had to control myself. I was full of emotion,' McKay recalled. 'But when you are a professional, it is important to communicate what it is like, to capture the moment.'

Sports, McKay said, lost its innocence that day.

He won both a news and sports Emmy Award for his coverage of the Munich Olympics in addition to the prestigious George Polk award.