Everyone knows who Michael Phelps is, the guy in the Olympics who set the record for most gold medals won. But few remember Phelps’ predecessor, Mark Spitz, who also was in the sport of swimming. Spitz set the record at 7 gold medals back in the 1972 Munich Olympic games.
Mark Spitz was born in Modesto, California. While still a youngster, his family moved to Hawaii where, I’m sure, his love for swimming was fostered. At the ripe old age of 6, Spitz began his swimming career and by the time he was 10, he had set 17 national records, and one world record to boot! …for his age group of course. When he was 14, he began swimming at the Santa Clara Swim Club, where he set national high school records in every race and every distance! Yet another unprecedented achievement to add to the list. After high school Spitz was breaking records and earning national titles right and left, and finally earned some serious recognition in 1967 at a swim meet in California when he set the world record for the 400 meter freestyle. Hmm, sensing a trend? It seems everywhere Mark went, he was breaking records. And earning 5 gold medals at the Pan American Games, in Winnipeg, was no exception.
It was in 1968 that Mark went to his first Olympic games in Mexico City. He boldly predicted himself winning 6 gold medals. But much to his disappointment, he only won 2 gold medals, both in relay events. After the 1968 Olympics, Spitz enrolled in Indiana University where he won 8 NCAA titles, in individual events. Then the 1972 Munich, Germany Olympics rolled around. This is where Spitz elevated himself to legend status, as he won 7 gold medals and set world records in each of those events, also never been done before. It was a bitter-sweet games, shortly after Spitz won his last gold medal, Palestinian terrorists kidnapped 11 Israeli Olympic athletes and eventually murdered them. This hit Mark especially close to home, considering he was born into a Jewish family.
Mark Spitz record held up for over 30 years, only to be beaten by Michael Phelps in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
Perhaps just as famed as his world-setting 7 gold medals, his mustache played an important part in the Olympics, according to Spitz. While others would criticize him for not being clean shaven, like his fellow competitors, Spitz would call it his “Good luck piece”. He was certainly. It certainly added to the idea that he was set apart from other swimmers, both in swimming talent, and in appearance.
So now when you think of Michael Phelps’ 8 gold medals, remember as well, who probably motivated Phelps to win those 8 medals, Mark Spitz. Hey who knows, maybe Michael Phelps will come to realize the power to behold in sporting a mustache. That would make for an entertaining 2012 summer games!