Mark Spitz & The 50th Anniversary Of Seven Golden Masterstrokes To Olympic Immortality

2022-08-27 Reading Time: 17 minutes
Life and Time(s) of Mark Spitz: his achievements made him a a poster boy for swimming, then and since
Life and Time(s) of Mark Spitz: his achievements made him a a poster boy for swimming, then and since

On this day 50 years ago in 1972, Mark Spitz was preparing to race in Munich at his second Olympic Games: the eve of action, seven targets ahead, all of them about to turn golden and make the American the most decorated athlete in history at a single Games.

Seven golds from five of the eight days of racing in the Bavarian capital, August 28 to September 4: a record that would survive eight Olympic cycles and 36 years until Spitz’s fellow American Michael Phelps made it eight golds at Beijing 2008.

Spitz quit the fast lane after the dizzy heights of Munich 1972 but his achievement lives on, his tally, his times, their meaning then and now eternal. We may well point to prevailing speed and know that just outside the swiftest 100m free Spitz ever mustered, we find a 51.98 over 100m butterfly from Thomas Heilman, a 15-year-old American excelling in Junior Pan Pacs in Hawaii in a year he might have been a World Junior Champion but for the overkill of calendar chaos that serves athletes and the sport poorly.

Fascinating comparisons abound in swimming history but they miss the point of ‘greatness”: each in his or her time, that context dictating where any achievement fits in the long thread of time and evolving and changing environments, for better or worse.

Mark Spitz was the standout male athlete of the 1972 Olympic Games – and remains one of the outstanding athletes in history.

More SOS 50th anniversary trip down memory lane to Munich 1972:

Shane Gould

Mark Spitz – Munich Master Of Nailing The Moment

Seven swims, seven golds, seven world records – a record unmatched in any sport in the Olympic realm for 36 years. In 1976, late doyenne of swimming journalism Pat Besford wrote “… his unique feat in Munich in 1972 is unlikely ever to be repeated” so extraordinary the tally. In 2008, Phelps went one better but the awe of that follow-up flight into outer-orbit of sporting achievement did not take away the shine of the first.

The 1972 world records and gold medals went Spitz’s way in the 100m and 200m on both freestyle and butterfly, and through his work as a member of three victorious USA relay quartets. All of which transcended his sport and granted the American a hallowed place in the pantheon of greats, not only in the pool but in world sporting history.

Mark Spitz was born in Modesto, California, on February 10, 1950, the son of Arnold and Lenore Spitz. He was the first-born of three children. The family moved to Hawaii when Mark was 2 and it was there in the birthplace of Duke Kahanamoku that he learned to swim. It was back to California when he was six and the Spitz family settled in Sacramento. A few years on, young Mark joined the Arden Hills Swim Club.

What a chance. It was home to owner and founder Sherm Chavoor, a young coach who would go down in history for his work with the likes of distance giants of their time, Debbie Meyer and Mike Burton on his way to International Swimming Hall of Fame. Spitz would carve out his own unique and towering plinth in the same place but success would not come without pain, a steep and very public learning curve, reinvention and drive.

Chavoor’s coaching went hand in hand with unrelenting pressure to ‘win’ from Spitz’s father. If you didn’t win, you lost, winning ‘perfection’, anything else ‘failure’, the option as stark as that.
Mark Spitz pursued perfection from go. He set his first U.S. national age group record in a boys’ 9-10 age group race in June 1960 and many more standards would tumble as he worked his way to the cusp of teenage years.

It was clear that Spitz was special – and his father demanded only the best for Mark and sister Nancy. Dad had heard great things about Santa Clara’s George Haines – so he moved the family in 1964 to the ‘world’s top team’, including Steven Clark, Richard Roth and young Mark’s idol, Don Schollander.

It was Schollander’s 1964 triumph as the first man to win four golds at one Olympics in the pool that lit a spark in the young mind of Mark Spitz. Sparks flew too between Haines and Spitz senior andy junior but the success kept coming. At his international debut at the 1965 Maccabiah Games in Israel, Spitz took four golds. Two years on, he claimed the first of 24 UU.S. National AAU titles with victory in the 100m butterfly and a summer later in 1967 claimed a record five gold medals at the Pan American Games.

In California on June 25 that year, he set the first of 33 world records, a 4:10.6 over 400m freestyle. The event would account for the first two of his world records and over the next five years, he would unleash a volley of pace-setting bullets like no other solo world-record setter ever had:


  • 4:10.6 400 free 25 June 1967
  • 4:08.8 400 free 7 July 1967
  • 2:06.4 200 fly 26 July 1967
  • 56.29 100 fly 31 July 1967
  • 2:06.4e 200 fly 13 August 1967
  • 55.7 100 fly 7 October 1967
  • 2:05.7 200 fly 8 October 1967


  • 4:07.7 400 free 23 June 1968
  • 55.6 100 fly 30 August 1968


  • 1:54.3 200 free 12 July 1969


  • 2:05.4 200 fly 22 August 1970
  • 51.94 100 free (h) 23 August 1970


  • 55.0 100 fly 25 August 1971
  • 2:03.9 200 fly 27 August 1971
  • 2:03.9(e) 200 fly 27 August 1971
  • 1:54.2 200 free 4 September 1971
  • 1:53.5 200 free relay 10 September 1971


  • 2:01.87 200 fly (h) 2 August 1972 Olympic Trials
  • 2:01.53 200 fly 2 August 1972 Olympic Trials
  • 54.72 100 fly (h) 4 August 1972 Olympic Trials
  • 54.56 100 fly 4 August 1972 Olympic Trials
  • 51.47 100 free (h) 5 August 1972 Olympic Trials
  • 2:00.70 200 fly 28 August 1972 Munich 1972 Olympics
  • 1:52.78 200 free 29 August 1972 Munich 1972 Olympics
  • 54.27 100 fly 31 August 1972 1972 Munich 1972 Olympics
  • 51.22 100 free 3 September 1972 Munich 1972 Olympics

A Rollercoaster Of Learning & Challenge

Mexico City, the venue for the 1968 Olympic Games stands at 7,350 ft (about 2,240m). Many struggled with the conditions, the 200m free final a case in point. Australia’s Mike Wenden and Schollander raced neck-and-neck but the Australian had the closing edge and snatched victory in an Olympic record of 1:55.2, 0.6sec ahead of the American. Far from being able to celebrate the moment in the rarified air at altitude, Wenden lost consciousness – and was saved from the danger of drowning by 1964 1,500m champion and teammate Robert Windle (6th), while Schollander had to be given oxygen.

Spitz was slated to go one better than Schollander’s 1964 tally of four golds but illness and altitude intervened and the 18-year-old took silver in the 100 ‘fly, bronze in the 100 free and gold in the 4×100 and 4×200 free relays. Not a bad debut – but well below expectations in the minds of media, swimmer’s father and indeed the swimmer himself, The word ‘failure’ was on the wind and, having been conditioned to agree, Spitz experienced the expectation.

Two ways to go: quit or shake it up, keep moving, restore belief and try again. He had planned to attend USC but an eleventh-hour change of mind led him to accept a scholarship to USC’s collegiate rival, Indiana University. There, he came under the tutelage of James “Doc” Counsilman, one of the greats of coaching history and a pioneer of “scientific” thought on swimming speed. Under Counsilman’s guidance, Spitz honed his skills and his mindset and by 1971, the bulk of his world records in the bag, Spitz was to be found collecting the Sullivan Award, presented each year to the AAU’s top athlete across all sports.

The Masterstroke Of Munich 1972

After great trials, Spitz arrived in Munich a favourite in several events and the U.S. a favourite for all three relays. Before the gun went off, Spitz played a psychological card in what he later called “The Great Moustache Caper”.

At a time when few men wore caps and goggles were yet to make it to races, the big gain on speed was to shave down, even, like Genter, to shave heads. Spitz went the opposite way, the mop and moustache part of the poster-boy image with those seven gold medals.

Spitz would later say that he was approached by a Russian coach and asked if he would shave off his moustache before racing began. Spitz said he would not and that research had shown that moustache helped to make him more streamlined. There had been no research, of course, but at the 1973 world championships, according to Spitz, “half the men on the Russian team sported moustaches”.

Day By Day To A Date With Olympic Immortality

Day 1: 200m Butterfly & 4x100m Free

The gun went off in Munich with the moustache in place. Spitz’s first gold was smelted in the 200m ‘fly, an event in which he had traded the world record with Gary Hall, Indiana and USA teammate and Olympics roommate. Spitz produced a sensational 2:00.7 world record, Hall taking silver,  Robin Backhaus completing the American sweep. The writing was on the end wall: the man with the multi-medal potential was in throttling form.

Gary Hall, right, featured in an Olympic flashback with his USA Team roommate Mark Spitz left, on the way to the 50th anniversary of Munich 1972 – with their teammate Deena Deardurff in the background, supported a twisted ankle with a crutch – Deardurff just missed the 100 ‘fly medals as a result of her injury but claimed Olympic gold with medley relay mates

200m Butterfly – Date: August 28, 1972     Athletes: 29     Nations: 20

1  Mark Spitz USA 2:00.70wr
2  Gary Hall USA 2:02.86
3  Robin Backhaus USA 2:03.23
4  Jorge Delgado ECU 2:04.60
5  Hans-Joachim Fassnacht FRG 2:04.69
6  Andras Hargitay HUN 2:04.69
7  Hartmut Floeckner GDR 2:05.34
8  Folkert Meeuw FRG 2:05.57

Mark Spitz ended his 1968 Olympic campaign by finishing last in the final of the 200m butterfly. He would start his Munich campaign with gold in the same event.

By the time he arrived in Germany of the Games, Spitz was a very different man and athlete: world-record holder in the 100m, 200m freestyle and the 100m and 200m butterfly, his potential to win seven gold medals was clear.

Heat 1 saw Gary Hall (USA) set an Olympic record of 2:03.70. Heat 2 and Robin Backhaus clocked 2:03.11 before Spitz made it a Games standard each for the three Americans, on 2:02.11 in heat 4, his time just 0.58sec outside his own world record set at Olympic trials less than four weeks before.

As he rose to his blocks in the final, Spitz was conscious of the ghost that needed exorcising. Four laps later, the spectre was dead and buried with a stake through its heart and garlic dangling in the ether: his 2:00.70 world record that came off splits of 27.12, 57.79 and 1:28.90. The psychological baggage of 1968 had been offloaded.  

Behind him in the 200m final, Backhaus was closest at the halfway mark, on 58.52, with Hall third in 59.10. By the last turn, Hall, on 1:30.57, was now just 0.24sec behind Backhaus. On the way home, the medley world record holder got the edge on his teammate and claimed silver in 2:02.86, 0.37sec up on Backhaus. 

That same evening, Spitz delivered gold No2 in the 4x100m free with David Edgar, John Murphy and Jerry Heidenreich.

1  USA 3:26.42 United States (David Edgar, John Murphy, Jerry Heidenreich, Mark Spitz) 
2  URS 3:29.72 Soviet Union (Vladimir Bure, Viktor Mazanov, Viktor Aboimov, Igor Grivennikov) 
3  GDR 3:32.42 German Democratic Republic (Roland Matthes, Wilfried Hartung, Peter Bruch, Lutz Unger) 
4  BRA 3:33.14 Brazil (Ruy Aquino Oliveira, Paulo Zanetti, Paulo Becskehazy, Jose Diaz Aranha) 
5  CAN 3:33.20 Canada (Bruce Robertson, Brian Phillips, Tim Bach, Robert Kasting) 
6  FRG 3:33.90 Federal Republic of Germany (Klaus Steinbach, Werner Lampe, Rainer Jacob, Hans-Joachim Fassnacht) 
7  FRA 3:34.13 France (Gilles Vigen, Alain Mosconi, Alain Hermitte, Michel Rousseau) 
8  ESP 3:38.21 Spain (Jorge Comas, Antonio Culebras, Enrique Melo, Jose Pujol) 

Day 2 – 200m Free

Next day, next challenge: 200m freestyle – 1:52.78, gold and WR No 3 for Mark Spitz.

Mike Wenden in 1968, when he was Olympic champion ahead of Spitz, Schollander and Co

200m Freestyle Date: August 29, 1972     Athletes: 46     Nations: 31

1  Mark Spitz USA 1:52.78wr
2  Steve Genter USA 1:53.73
3  Werner Lampe FRG 1:53.99
4  Michael Wenden AUS 1:54.40
5  Frederick Tyler USA 1:54.96
6  Klaus Steinbach FRG 1:55.65
7 Michel Rousseau  FRA 1:57.24 
8  Ralph Hutton CAN 1:57.56

The race was a thriller. At the half-way point, Steve Genter (USA) turned first in 54.93 to Spitz’s 55.06, with Germans Klaus Steinbach and Werner Lampe on 55.50 and 55.73 respectively. By 150m, Genter maintained his edge, his split of 1:24.28 just 0.16sec up on Spitz.

Hi sights set on a third gold, Spitz whipped off the wall holding hands with momentum and the firm of his life: a lap later and he was 0.95sec ahead of Genter for victory.

Genter’s performance was all the more remarkable for the fact that he had undergone emergency surgery for a collapsed lung in Munich and had been released from hospital the day before the 200m race.

Werner Lampe took bronze for the hosts, blocking 1968 champion Mike Wenden, of Australia, out of the medals by 0.41sec.

The medals ceremony for the event was among the most controversial in Olympic history: Spitz waved his shoes at the crowd and was called before an IOC committee to explain. The champion persuaded Olympic judges that he had been taken by the emotion of the moment and that his action had not been rooted in commercial opportunism. “Product placement” was cited in an official complaint from the Soviet team. The shoes were in fact old and the IOC rejected the complaint.

Day 4 – 100m Butterfly, 4x200m Free

On August 31, 1972, the 100m butterfly delivered gold and WR No 4. Spitz claimed gold in 54.27sec, a World record and victory by what remains the biggest margin in the history of the Olympic 100m butterfly: 1.29sec ahead of Canadian Bruce Robertson.

Better known for backstroke: Roland Matthes – courtesy NT/CL Archive

100m Butterfly Date: August 31, 1972     Athletes: 39     Nations: 26

1  Mark Spitz USA 54.27wr 
2  Bruce Robertson CAN 55.56 
3  Jerry Heidenreich USA 55.74
4  Roland Matthes GDR 55.87
5  David Edgar USA 56.11
6  Bryon MacDonald CAN 57.27
7  Hartmut Floeckner GDR 57.40
8  Neil Rogers AUS 57.90

Mark Spitz (USA) continued to roll towards sporting immortality with the fourth gold medal of his Olympic campaign. By the time he arrived in Munich, Spitz had set the world record in the 100m butterfly six times, the only interruption in his run of global standards the record which was equalled by Doug Russell (USA) in 1967 on his way to keeping Spitz at bay in the 1968 Olympic final.

 By 1972, Spitz’s dominance on butterfly was no longer in question. At US trials in Chicago he left the world record at 54.56 and in the second semi-final in Munich equalled Russell’s Olympic record of 55.9 with a 55.98 at the first Games to record times to the hundredth of a second (and thousandth in a way that would see a permanent change to the rule on how many noughts would count in future).

In the final, Spitz left nothing to chance, turning in 25.38, with teammates Dave Edgar and Jerry Heidenreich respectively within half a stroke and a stroke and Roland Matthes (GDR), the greatest backstroke swimmer the world had known, precisely a second down on Spitz. Out of the turn, Spitz maintained a pace that his rivals could not cope with. Steadily but decisively, the American increased his lead and claimed the crown in 54.27. Four Golds, Four World Records. Things were going rather well.

The race for the minor medals was a thriller, with four men stopping the clock within half a second of each other. Bruce Robertson (CAN) came back hard to take the silver from Heidenreich, locking Matthes out of the medals by 0.13sec, with Edgar back in fifth. Matthes was one of two finalists to race in the final eight four years on in Montreal. The other was Neil Rogers (AUS), who finished eighth in both 1972 and 1976. Spitz’s world record survived the 1976 Games before being broken in 1977 by Joe Bottom (USA). 

Steve Genter and Mark Spitz – Munich 1972 – courtesy, Wikipedia

Spitz followed his 100 ‘fly victory with a second gold in the same session for a fifth victory overall in just four days of racing. Again, a World Record was attached as he anchored the U.S. 4×200 free quartet alongside John Kinsella, Fred Tyler and Steven Genter, whose shaven head became one of the enduring images of the swimming at the 1972 Games.

4x200m Relay Freestyle

1  USA 7:35.78 United States (John Kinsella, Fred Tyler, Steve Genter, Mark Spitz) 
2  FRG 7:41.69 Federal Republic of Germany (Klaus Steinbach, Werner Lampe, Hans-Günter Vosseler, Hans-Joachim Fassnacht) 
3  URS 7:45.76 Soviet Union (Igor Grivennikov, Viktor Mazanov, Georgiy Kulikov, Vladimir Bure) 
4  SWE 7:47.37 Sweden (Bengt Gingsjoe, Hans Ljungberg, Anders Bellbring, Gunnar Larsson) 
5  AUS 7:48.66 Australia (Mike Wenden, Graham Windeatt, Robert Nay, Brad Cooper) 
6  GDR 7:49.11 German Democratic Republic (Wilfried Hanung, Peter Bruch, Udo Poser, Lutz Unger) 
7  CAN 7:53.61 Canada (Bruce Robertson, Brian Phillips, Ian MacKenzie, Ralph Hutton) 
8  GBR 7:55.59 Great Britain (Brian Brinkley, John Mills, Stephen Badger, Colin Cunningham) 

On Day 5, Spitz rested. Which is when doubt set in. The 100m free was his next target. “I was thinking of scratching,” he recalled. “I’d won five golds and, barring a DQ, I knew we would take the medley relay. So I felt assured of winning six golds, all in world record time … I figured six-for-six was infinitely better than six golds plus a silver or bronze, and I knew my teammate, Jerry Heidenreich, was going to be very hard to beat.”

Legendary coaches Don Gambril, Peter Daland and Sherman Chavoor all spoke to Spitz – and persuaded him to change his mind. Gambril is quoted as having said to Spitz: “Why are you thinking of scratching when no one in that field can touch you? If you scratch, you will never forgive yourself.” Chavoor made the killer point, telling Spitz: “You can win 14 gold medals … but if you don’t win that one [100m freestyle] no-one will ever say you were the fastest swimmer ever.”

Day 7 – 100m Freestyle

As it turned out, Spitz opted in and never needed to forgive himself: Heidenreich was in fine form, on 51.65, Spitz ahead of him in 51.22. Gold No 6 and World Record No6 in the pantheon.

Munich 1972 – 100m free podium of Heidenreich, left, Spitz and Bure

100m Freestyle Date: September 3, 1972    Athletes: 48     Nations: 30

1  Mark Spitz USA 51.22wr
2  Jerry Heidenreich USA 51.65
3  Vladimir Bure URS 51.77
4  John Murphy USA 52.08
5  Michael Wenden AUS 52.41
6  Igor Grivennikov URS 52.44
7  Michel Rousseau FRA 52.90
8  Klaus Steinbach FRG 52.92

Spitz’s mentor Sherm Chavoor told his charge that he would be perceived as a “chicken” if he scratched. How much that contributed to determination alongside Gambril’s ‘no-one can touch you’ and Peter Daland‘s ‘better to have seized the day for all its worth than to walked away and lived with regret’ is anyone’s guess but what we’ve known for 50 years is that Spitz showed up and proved them all right.

Spitz cruised through the qualifiers behind Michael Wenden (AUS), defending champion, and Heidenreich. In the final, he fired from the blocks, turning first in 24.56 to Heidenreich’s 24.92, with Vladimir Bure (URS) on 24.96. Spitz looked strong until 15 metres to go, when his stroke faltered and he looked more vulnerable than he had throughout an extraordinary and demanding week. Heidenreich held stroke but the damage had been done and Spitz claimed his sixth gold medal of the Games in a sixth world record, of 51.22.

Heidenreich and Bure took the spoils, all three dipping below 52sec, a barrier that had never been broken in Olympic waters until that moment.

All that was left was the medley relay.

Day 8 – 4x100m Medley

Mark Spitz raced fly, after Mike Stamm on backstroke, Thomas Bruce on breaststroke and before Jerry Heidenreich delivered that seventh gold in a world record 3:48.16 for Spitz, quartet and the USA.

Stamm clocked 57.97 opening for the USA, to find himself well down on the lead pace: Roland Matthes set the GDR up for silver with a 56.3 that equalled his own World record before handing over to Klaus Katzur, the national breaststroke champion who would go on to marry Petra Thumer, the 400-800m freestyle Olympic champion of 1976 on a team fuelled by state-organised doping. Matthes would marry Kornelia Ender, the GDR star of Montreal 1976. Neither marriage would survive.

1  USA 3:48.16 United States (Michael Stamm, Thomas Bruce, Mark Spitz, Jerry Heidenreich) 
2  GDR 3:52.12 German Democratic Republic (Roland Matthes, Klaus Katzur, Hartmut Flöckner, Lutz Unger) 
3  CAN 3:52.26 Canada (Erik Fish, William Mahony, Bruce Robertson, Robert Kasting) 
4  URS 3:53.26 Soviet Union (Igor Grivennikov, Nikolay Pankin, Viktor Sharygin, Vladimir Bure) 
5  BRA 3:57.89 Brazil (Romulo Arantes, Jose Silvio Fiolo, Sergio Waismann, Jose Diaz Aranha) 
6  JPN 3:58.23 Japan (Tadashi Honda, Nobutaka Taguchi, Yasuhiro Komazaki, Jiro Sasaki) 
7  GBR 3:58.82 Great Britain (Colin Cunningham, David Wilkie, John Mills, Malcolm Windeatt) 
8  HUN 3:59.07 Hungary (Laszlo Cseh, Sandor Szabo, Istvan Szentirmai, Attila Csavari) 

The Munich Massacre

Two days later, Palestinian terrorists seized, and later murdered, 11 Israeli athletes in the Olympic village. It was the darkest day in Olympic history. As the world’s greatest Jewish athlete, Spitz was believed to be a target. He was spirited out of Munich to London and then on to his home in California, where he watched tragic events unfold.

It was during his brief stopover in London that Spitz posed for the iconic poster of him draped in seven gold medals and his Speedos, and sporting the most famous moustache ever to get wet. The poster, which sold more than 5 million copies, was ubiquitous, forever etching a triumphant 22 year-old Mark Spitz in our memories.

Like Phelps many years later, Spitz was incredibly versatile: he was ranked world top 3 on backstroke and would have had a fine medley in him, too, had he focussed on it, perhaps in a career that would have stretched to 1976 and even beyond if the world then had been as it is now and professional careers had been possible. They were not – and Spitz had achieved all there was to achieve within the time allocated to him and the time he allocated to being the world’s No1 swimmer. Sporting immortality is his legacy.

Life After Greatness in the Pool

After Munich, Spitz postponed going to Dental School at USC and went into acting. His thespian skills paled by comparison to his swimming and it all meant that Spitz would live with the regret of never having made it to dental college.

Even so, Spitz landed several lucrative corporate endorsement contracts and is reported to have earned about $7 million in the two years after his Munich success. A big help when it came to him moving into property, a sector he fared well in alongside his work in public appearance, speech-giving and ambassadorial roles such as that he holds with Laureus.

He married his college sweetheart, Suzy Weiner, a UCLA theatre student and part-time model back then, and they have two sons, Matthew and Justin.

At the age of 41, Spitz attempted a comeback of sorts for the 1992 Olympics but fell well shy of making trials cuts. On the way, he racers at the Canet round of the Mare Nostrum Tour. I followed him from the pool in which he raced a good (and excellent for his age) but no longer competitive 50m butterfly among the elite of the hour, over to the nearby hotel where he gave a speech that called on FINA and others to think again about the Olympic swim schedule: perhaps it was time to have far more 50m races and head to heads to attract more attention to the sport, he noted.

Tamas Darnyi

Afterwards, he spotted Tamas Darnyi eating lunch in the garden. Spitz went over to the Hungarian double Olympic medley champion on his way to a repeat performance at Barcelona 1992, shook hands and said how much he had admired him and his achievements. Darnyi stood, smiled and then returned to his lunch.

“You realise, of course, that in your world of 50m head to heads, there would be no Tamas Darnyi, 400m medley Olympic champion?” I asked Spitz. He shrugged and smiled, his ideas not yet having had time to take mature shape.

Spitz made up for his moment of insult to all that Hungarian talent excelling at more than  200m down the years when, in 2006, he received due critical acclaim for his narration of Freedom’s Fury, produced by Quentin Tarantino and Lucy Liu: It was a documentary about the Hungarian Olympic water polo team’s famous Blood in the Water match against Russia during the Revolution of 1956.

Two years on, Spitz had good reason to feel somewhat snubbed when he was left off the invitation list to the 2008 Olympic Games at which Phelps was a prospect for the seven and went one further with eight.

Spitz was quoted as saying:

“I never got invited. You don’t go to the Olympics just to say, I am going to go. Especially because of who I am … I am going to sit there and watch Michael Phelps break my record anonymously? That’s almost demeaning to me. It is not almost – it is.”

Mark Spitz – image: Michael Phelps Vs Milorad Cavic in a 100m ‘fly final at the WaterCube that would spill with controversy down the years – image by Patrick B. Kraemer – all rights reserved

The issue was one for the IOC and USOC, though FINA could also have helped if it had had the right mind set: the international swimming federation held its centenary gala dinner in Beijing but the audience was largely made up of blazers, missing from the guest list all those like Spitz, Debbie Meyer, Shane Gould (more on the Australian living legend in our Munich 1972 anniversary coverage to come) and many others who were the stars of those 100 years of history, stars without whom there would have been no show. None were asked.

Spitz provided a gracious quote after Phelps [Photo: USA Swimming] had won his seventh gold in Beijing, telling a U.S. TV network:

“You know, Bob [Bowman] and Michael, I wondered what I was going to say at this monumental time, when it would happen and who I would say it to, and of course I thought I was going to say it to you for some time now. But, it’s the word that comes to mind, ‘epic’.

“What you did tonight was epic, and it was epic for the whole world to see how great you really are. I never thought for one moment that you were out of that race and contention, because I watched you at Athens win the race by similar margins, and 18 months ago at the World’s by similar margins. And, you know, that is a tribute to your greatness. And now the whole world knows.

We are so proud of you Michael here in America, and we are so proud of you and the way that you handle yourself, and you represent such an inspiration to all the youngsters around the world. You know, you weren’t born when I did what I did, and I’m sure that I was a part of your inspiration, and I take that as a full compliment.

And they say that you judge one’s character by the company you keep, and I’m happy to keep company with you. And you have a tremendous responsibility for all those people that you are going to inspire over the next number of years, and I know that you will wear the crown well. Congratulations, Mike.”

Mark Spitz. Image: Bob Bowman by Craig Lord; left, Michael Phelps – by Patrick B. Kraemer – all rights reserved

Spitz As A Critic Of The System

Down the years, Spitz has been critical of FINA and the IOC on a number of matters, including doping. In 1998, he called FINA’s lack of action in the midst of the China Crisis. He also claimed on Australian radio that FINA did not truly want to fight the good fight on doping. He said: “They don’t want to test for everything because there’s tremendous pressure from the television networks because they want the television to have athletic competitions with the world record holders there for the finals.

Swimming needs an independent Integrity Unit

“They want the medals not to be tainted in their value of accomplishment by winning them, and it’s all about ratings and commercial selling of time and about money. And an International Olympic Committee has got their hand in the pockets of the network television people, so there’s a tremendous conflict of interest in what they should do and what they’re doing.”

Mark Spitz
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