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Bob Costas, Mike Tirico both share Olympic bond with Jim McKay

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To this day, Bob Costas remembers a phone call he received the night before the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Opening Ceremony.

Longtime ABC sports anchor Jim McKay was on the other end, passing the torch to Costas, who was embarking on his first Olympics as primetime host at age 40.

“We had been acquainted, but not that well acquainted,” Costas reflected last week. “I don’t remember everything he said, but one thing he said was, ‘Just remember this, you’re the right guy.’ I didn’t know if he was 100 percent right, but I hoped he was right, and I’m glad that he felt that way.”

Costas announced last week the end of his Olympic hosting career, ending with a U.S.-TV record 11 Games in the primetime chair. McKay, who died in 2008 at age 86, previously held the record of eight and even came back to work with Costas at the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Games (which Costas then likened to Joe DiMaggio coming back to play with the New York Yankees in the 1960s).

Costas will be succeeded by Mike Tirico in PyeongChang next year.

Tirico has his own one-on-one McKay story, from flying home after covering the British Open together in the late 1990s or early 2000s for ABC.

“Lucky for me, the nerd TV sportscasting lover, I was seated next to Jim across the Atlantic to come back to the U.S., and I said, I hope he doesn’t take a nap,” Tirico said last week. “He napped, and then he woke up, and we spoke for about three hours about the Olympics.”

Tirico recalls few details, but the tragedy at the Munich Olympics and the Miracle on Ice were both discussed.

“To hear Munich from Jim McKay’s mind and beyond the book that he had written and how he had discussed it along the years,” Tirico said, adding separately, “I remember asking Jim about [the Miracle on Ice] and trying to convey the excitement that people at home had of watching this game and all of its implications, sport and otherwise, while knowing the result and his ability to do that. He gave some detail about knowing the result yet trying to play it straight and to share the joy that he was sure was going on behind him with everyone after the game ended.”

Costas has said McKay was kind to him from the get-go. In the 1992 Olympic preview issue of Sports Illustrated, McKay said this in a Costas profile:

“NBC’s Olympic coverage is in very good hands. Anchoring the Olympics sometimes requires you to change course quickly, and Bob does that very well. You have to know so many different sports, and he knows them. You have to have a nice sense of story, which he has. You have to be a good interviewer, and having been the subject of a two-parter on Later [Costas’ late-night talk show], I can tell you he’s an excellent interviewer. Audiences are so much more sophisticated than when I started doing the Olympics, and Bob will bring that sophistication to the viewer. I’m sorry I won’t be in Barcelona to do the Olympics, but if I have to watch anybody, I’m glad it’s Bob Costas.”

Costas worked 12-hour shifts during the Barcelona Games and wasn’t able to see one minute of the Dream Team in person, he said last week. But he did find time to call McKay to thank him for that quote, according to the Washington Post.

“He said he felt we were doing a fine job, and of course that meant so much coming from him,” Costas said in August 1992, according to the newspaper. “And for him to say what he did about me in the magazine even before I did the Games also meant a great deal to me.”

The advice Costas gave Tirico last week echoed what he reportedly said of McKay back in 1992 — “Even though you have the highest amount of respect and admiration for someone else, you don’t try to copy them, because inevitably you become just some sort of pale imitation of them.”

“To have that connection with those two men and to know that I’ve worked with both of them, it gives me an understanding of how important the job is,” Tirico said, “but also the type of people that they are and what is needed and necessary to do the job the right way.”

VIDEO: Montage of Bob Costas’ Olympic highlights

Ragan Smith delivers in first U.S. championship title win

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ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — Ragan Smith embraced the role of heavy favorite coming into the U.S. gymnastics championships.

Thrust into the spotlight for the first time in her career, the 17-year-old hardly appeared intimidated by the stage. Smith pulled away from the field to claim her first national title Sunday, posting a score of 115.250, more than three points clear of Jordan Chiles in second place and Riley McCusker in third.

Smith opened up a 1.3-point lead over McCusker in the opening round Friday but admitted afterward she wasn’t particularly impressed by her own performance. She was considerably sharper less than 48 hours later, her 57.850 total in the finals was the best in the 16-woman all-around field by nearly two points.

Smith is one of the few holdovers from the 2016 Olympic cycle, serving as an alternate for the “Final Five” team that won half of the available medals in Rio de Janeiro last fall. Simone Biles, Gabby Douglas, Aly Raisman, Madison Kocian and Laurie Hernandez are taking breaks or have moved on, leaving Smith as the standard bearer for new national team coordinator Valeri Liukin.

The program appears to be in solid hands. Smith ditched “The Addams Family” themed floor routine she used last year for something a little more mature. It’s not the only part of her gymnastics that has grown up. Smith finished first on floor and beam and tied for third on bars.

Smith will be in the mix for the all-around title at the world championships in Montreal, where she’ll have a chance to extend the U.S.’s dominance. An American woman has won the world or Olympic title each of the last six years. Barring injury, Smith should be right there.

Liukin said he wasn’t alarmed following an uneven performance by the field in preliminaries, calling it a positive step for a group lacking in experience. The gymnastics were markedly improved in the finals.

Chiles slipped by McCusker into second thanks to a fabulous save on beam in which she turned a near disaster into something decidedly artful.

Chiles was in the middle of “wolf turn” (basically spinning on one foot while in a crouch on a 4-inch wide piece of wood) when she nearly fell over. Instead she rose to her feet, kept rotating, and went right into the next part of her routine as if it was planned all along.

Chiles’ steadiness gives Liukin another option as he tries to put together the rest of the four-woman team that will join Smith in Montreal. McCusker, only recently recovered from foot and wrist injuries, tried to keep the heat on Smith but stepped out of bounds following the last tumbling pass on her floor routine. McCusker finished first on bars — her legs practically magnetized together as she went from bar to bar — to win the event with ease.

Ashton Locklear, like Smith an alternate last summer, wound up second on bars with a watered down routine as he makes her way back from her own injury issues and should have time to install upgrades before Montreal.

Whoever heads to Canada in October will go with the usual expectations for what has become the sport’s most dominant program.

MORE: Simone Biles says being back in the gym is “OK” (video)

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Simone Biles says being back in the gym is “OK” (video)

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Simone Biles has competed in the six previous U.S. National Championships, winning the last four, but in Anaheim this year, she’s watching from the sidelines. Biles won four gold medals (team, all-around, vault and floor) and one bronze (on beam) last summer at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.

This week she revealed she has returned to the gym to prepare for a yet to be determined event, in her return to competition.

When asked how she’s been doing in the gym by NBC Sports’ Andrea Joyce, Biles responded with her signature smile accompanied by an endearingly bashful eye roll, “the beginning is…OK.”

MORE: Danell Leyva on why he’s retiring

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