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As I turned on Hockey Night in Canada yesterday evening, I was saddened to learn the passing of CBC broadcasting great Mr. Don Wittman. Mr. Wittman lost his battle with cancer earlier on Saturday morning.
Anyone living in Canada who watched CBC sports will recall Mr. Wittman's entertaining calls of events from the Olympics (He might be best remembered as the voice that called the men's 100-metre race at the 1996 Summer Olympics, when sprinter Donovan Bailey won a gold medal for Canada.) to classic football games in the CFL to Stanley Cup winning games in the NHL. His last CBC assignment was on October 13th, when he called an Ottawa Senators-New York Rangers game. Mr. Wittman was a native of Winnipeg and on January 8th, the CBC held a retirement luncheon in The Manitoba capital as they inducted Mr. Wittman into the CBC Sports Hall of Fame. (Video courtesy of CBC News via YouTube.)
Mr. Wittman was my favorite broadcaster of all. I grew up listening to his commentary and play by play action from Olympic events to memorable sports moments such as the infamous 1987 World Junior Hockey Championship game between Canada and Russia which saw Mr. Wittman to report: "..."you don't see this in International hockey, you just don't see players getting their helmets off and fighting...they've turned the lights off in the arena, but that isn't going to solve anything they're still fighting... I've never seen anything like this...I wouldn't be surprised if the game is over. I wouldn't be at all surprised if the game is called..." Sure enough the game was called due to the brawl. Canada and Russia were both kicked out of the tournament.
Mr. Wittman is a legend. He was one of Canada's greatest spokespersons and through his call of sporting events was as entertaining as they come. According to the Globe and Mail, Scott Moore, the head of CBC Sports, described Mr. Wittman as a pioneer in TV sports. His career in broadcasting started in radio in 1955 when he was 18. He joined the CBC in 1961. In 1972, Mr. Wittman got an uncomfortably close look at a Munich hostage-taker as discussed here. Growing up in Alberta I can remember Mr. Wittman calling the epic Battle of Alberta games between the Calgary Flames and my favorite Edmonton Oilers.
Mr. Wittman was known for having amazing memory recall. He never forgot a name or an event. For me, Mr. Wittman was the voice of the Olympics, the voice of curling and the voice of classic CFL games. Mr. Wittman will always be the "pre-eminent football voice" in Canada. Mr. Don Wittman WAS the voice of CBC. Words like "consummate professional", "broadcasting pioneer", or "never forget a name" often describe Mr. Wittman. His class, distinctive voice and diversity are an inspiration to broadcasters across the nation. I was lucky enough to get to listen to him and be entertained by him. For those that were friends and family and were able to converse with Mr. Wittman you were lucky enough to be in the presence of a great man. I would suggest that the CFL, and NHL or CBC introduce a new trophy to be given out to the athlete, coach, executive or broadcaster who conveys the most class in their endeavors. The Don Wittman trophy for the athlete, player, coach, executive, or broadcaster who exemplifies professionalism and class in their industry.
Mr. Wittman you will be missed. CBC Sports will never be the same. We lost a great one. Mr. Wittman is survived by his wife, Judy, and two daughters, Karen and Kristen and son David.
Other Interesting Facts About Mr. Don Wittman
Mr. Don Wittman was born in Herbert, Sask., and attended the University of Saskatchewan.
He began his broadcasting career as a radio news reporter in 1955 at CFQC in Saskatoon.
The 1964 Winter Games in Innsbruck were Wittman's first
As a sportscaster, Mr. Wittman participated in 18 Summer and Winter Olympics
Mr. Wittman was the voice when Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson brought the nation to their feet with his win (later retracted due to a positive steroids test) in the 100 metre event at the 1988 Seoul Summer Olympics.
Mr. Wittman's interview with Sandra Schmirler's after the 1998 gold medal win in curling for Team Canada was one of his favourite moments.
Covering a calamity more sobering than any sporting event could ever be, Wittman was near the scene in Munich in 1972 after gunmen attacked and held hostage members of Israel's Olympic team, with 11 eventually killed.
During the standoff, Wittman and producer Bob Moir crawled under a fence to get into the Olympic Village and the evacuated Canadian quarters. They were positioned directly across a courtyard from the Israeli dormitory.