Spitz, Mark

views updated May 14 2018

Mark Spitz


American swimmer

During the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, West Germany, young American swimmer Mark Spitz won seven gold medals, the most by any individual in any Olympiad, and set as many world records. Spitz, a detailed strategist in and out of the water, was named 1972 World Swimmer of the Year. He over-came his share of disappointment and even tragedy, which may have made him an even stronger competitor. Three decades later, he continues to be a booster for his sport.

"Swimming Isn't Everything"

As soon as he began walking, Mark Spitz began to swim. At age two, his parents, Lenore and Arnold Spitz, moved to Honolulu, Hawaii, where Arnold Spitz, an executive with a steel company, had been transferred. He swam daily at Waikiki Beach. "You should have seen that little boy dash into the ocean," his mother later told a Time magazine reporter.

Soon, with strong encouragement from his family, Spitz was swimming competitively. Having returned to his native California at age six, he began his formal training at the Sacramento YMCA. Three years later, Arnold Spitz took his precocious son to the Arden Hills Swim Club to train with Sherm Chavoor, who would remain

a mentor for many years. By age ten, Spitz had won 17 age-group events. That year, Spitz had a scheduling problem when his after-school swim workout conflicted with Hebrew school. His father intervened and told the rabbi, "Even God likes a winner." The family relocated to Santa Clara so that, despite an 80-mile commute for his father, Spitz could train with the celebrated George Haines at the Santa Clara Swim Club. "Swimming isn't everything," his father used to tell his son, "winning is." In 1965, the teenager entered his first international competition at the Olympic-style Maccabiah Games in Tel Aviv and won four gold medals. (Upon his return four years later, he won six more golds.)

In 1966, the high school student won the national Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) championships with the 100-meter butterfly. By age 17, Spitz broke his first world record with a time of 4 minutes, 10.6 seconds in the 400-meter freestyle. Full of confidence, Spitz qualified for the 1968 Summer Olympic Games in Mexico City and boasted he would win six medals. He faced bitter disappointment. Not only was he a target of anti-Semitism from some team members, he also failed to meet his own expectations. He won only two golds, both in relay events, though he did take the silver in the 100-meter butterfly and the bronze in the 100-meter freestyle. It was, he told a journalist, "the worst meet of my life." While many athletes would have reveled in medaling at all, for Spitz the event was a disaster. There was little the 18-year-old could do but to brace himself for a comeback, or quit.

Glory Days

Spitz was no quitter. Knowing he had a long road ahead, he vowed to commit himself to training with the finest. Recruited by Indiana University in Bloomington, which had one of the nation's most outstanding aquatics program, Spitz enrolled in 1969. A pre-dental student, Spitz worked with working with James "Doc" Counsilman, former national swimming champion, coach, and kinetics researcher. By the time he graduated, Spitz, who had been captain of the Hoosiers, earned World Swimmer of the Year award from Swimming World magazine in 1967, 1971 and 1972. In 1971 he became the first Jewish recipient of the AAU's annual James E. Sullivan Memorial Award for athleticism, leadership, character, and sportsmanship.

Spitz won five gold medals at the 1967 Pan American Games in Winnipeg, thirty-one AAU titles, eight National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) championships (four times in the 100-yard butterfly), and 33 world records. His contact with coaches Chavoor, Haines, and Counsilman, all members of the International Swimming Hall of Fame in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, helped Spitz mature as a man and a swimmer. As the 1972 Olympics advanced, Spitz had established himself. Gone was the pretense of 1968 and in its place was a focused competitorwith a mustache.

It took four months to grow, but Spitz was proud of it. He had intended to shave his mustache for the Munich Olympics but since he did so well at the trialshe broke the world record in the 200-meter butterflyhe decided the mustache was a "good-luck piece." During a practice swim, Spitz noticed the Soviets photographing him. Asked whether the mustache added unwanted drag to the swimmer. Spitz answered, "No, it actually deflects water from my mouth and allows me to keep my head in a lower position that helps my speed," he later told Newsweek magazine. His answer was pure invention, but the Soviets didn't know that. Suddenly, several Soviet swimmers began sporting mustaches in competition. Another Spitz tactic included changing his usual stroke to a highly inefficient one during practice, so that the spying Soviets might again be thrown off. When they inquired about his "unconventional" stroke, Spitz again spouted nonsense, this time about how the ungainly stroke actually builds muscle.

Prepares Seriously

Prior to the athletic events, Spitz spoke to the media and though he was brief, his remarks reflected his newfound seriousness. "I can't devote too much time to you guys," he told the press. "I need the time to psyche myself up."

That he did. The first event was the 200-meter butterfly. Spitz won it in a record-breaking 2:00.7. His pure joy launched him from the water and he stood by the poolside, arms raised in victory. That same day, he swam his leg in the 4x100-meter freestyle relay, and though his team took the gold, Spitz was a bit unnerved by teammate Jerry Heidenreich's time, which clocked .12 of a second faster than his.


1950Born February 10 in Modesto, California
1958Begins swimming competitively
1961Comes under guidance of coach Sherm Chavoor
1965Competes in Maccabiah Games in Tel Aviv, his first international event
1966Competes in National Amateur Athletic Union 100-meter butterfly
1967Competes in Pan-American Games in Winnipeg, Canada
1968Vows to win gold in all events at Mexico City Olympics but takes gold only in the 4x100-meter and 4x200-meter freestyle relays
1969Graduates from Indiana University, where he swims for coach James "Doc" Counsilman
1972Leaves Olympic Games early after winning gold medals and after killing of Israeli athletes in Olympic village
1973Formally retires from swimming
1973Signs with William Morris Agency, earning $5 million in endorsements
1973Marries Suzy Weiner
1987Autobiography Seven Golds published
1989Attempts a comeback and begins training for the 1992 Barcelona Olympics
1992Fails to qualify in the 100-meter butterfly and concedes defeat, beginning second retirement
1998Proposes creating initiative to address problem of swimmers and performance-enhancing drugs

Awards and Accomplishments

1960Wins seventeen national age-group titles
1966Wins first of 24 national Amateur Athletic Union championships
1967World records in 400-meter freestyle, 100-meter butterfly, and 200-meter butterfly events; five gold medals at Pan-American Games
1968Individual bronze and silver medalist at Mexico City Olympics, gold in the 4x100-meter and 4x200-meter freestyle relays
1969World Swimmer of the Year
1971Amateur Athletic Union's James E. Sullivan Memorial Award; World Swimmer of the Year
1972World records in all seven events at Munich Olympics, first athlete to win seven Olympic gold medals in one Olympiad; World Swimmer of the Year; Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year
1977Inducted into International Swimming Hall of Fame in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, as an honor swimmer
1983Inducted into U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame, with first class of inductees

Nevertheless, he won gold in his second solo event, the 200-meter freestyle in 1:52.78, though it ignited controversy from the Soviet contingent. The brouhaha began when Spitz stood barefoot on the medal stand, shoes in hand. During the national anthem, he dropped his shoes by his side, only to retrieve them and wave them to the applauding audience. The Soviets complained to the International Olympic Committee, charging Spitz with

promoting a commercial product. Spitz defended himself by saying the gesture was completely spontaneous, the shoes were old, and he was receiving no financial reward. Spitz was cleared and concentrated on the next event, the 100-meter butterfly, his favorite. He won it by a full body length in a record 54.27 seconds.

After the 4x200-meter freestyle relay, which brought yet another gold for the Americans, the swimmer got cold feet. Spitz had so far swum a perfect Olympics, winning gold in all five events. With two more events to go and a case of nerves, Spitz contacted his former coach, Sherm Chavoor, who was in Munich with the American women's team. Concerned about both saving his strength for the 4x100-meter medley relay, and haunted by Heidenreich's performance in the 400-meter relay, Spitz asked Chavoor whether he ought to duck out of the next event, the 100-meter freestyle. The coach urged Spitz to compete, and warned that sitting out the race would look as though he had lost his competitive edge. In a later interview, Spitz told journalists, "I just tried to keep my cool and continue with my race plan: to win."

Spitz proved unpredictable to his competitors in the 100-meter freestyle as he swam the first lap at full strength, being the first to touch the wall in 24.56 seconds. During the semifinal heat, he had stayed behind, finishing after Australia's defending champion Michael Wenden and Heidenreich. But during the final it was a completely different race. Though he lost his rhythm during the second lap, Spitz continued charging ahead to beat Heidenreich by half a stroke, winning the event in 51.22, shaving his own world record by .25 seconds. The final event was the 4 × 100-meter relay. For Spitz, as a member of the American team, this would be the final hurdle in a bid to make a clean, unprecedented sweep of Olympic gold. On September 4, 1972, Spitz, in the Munich Schwimhalle, won his seventh gold in his seventh event, all of which set world records.

Olympic Tragedy

The day after Spitz's heroics was even more memorable than the days that preceded it. Early on the morning of September 5, eight Palestinian terrorists invaded the Israeli team headquarters in the Olympic Village, killing two Israeli athletes. Nine Israeli athletes were taken hostage. The terrorists, known as Black September, demanded the release of political prisoners. As the world watched the standoff on live television, German authorities took the terrorists and their prisoners to an airfield for a flight out of the country. But later in the day, a German police rescue attempt failed, ending in the killing of all nine hostages.

By 11:30 that morning, a security detail surrounded Spitz, who, as an American Jew, was considered a potential terrorist target. The plans for him to attend various winners' ceremonies throughout Germany were suddenly and secretly changed. "I completely freaked out," he told Phillip Whitten of Swim Info. "Here it was, twenty-seven years after the end of World War II, and there were still madmen killing Jews because they are Jews." Surrounded by six armed guards, Spitz was taken to London for a photo shoot to which he had committed with a German magazine, and then flown home to California, where he expected to begin dental school.

When he finally arrived home that Wednesday morning, he watched the Olympic memorial service on television with his two sisters. "The whole thing took on a surreal quality," he told Whitten. "I was in Sacramento, sitting in my living room like Johnny Lunchbucket, watching the Olympics on TV, as if I had never been there. A few days later I was in temple for a Rosh Hashanah service, sitting next to Governor [Ronald] Reagan. That's when the significance of the whole sequence of events really hit me."

A New Identity

The Munich massacre overshadowed Spitz's achievements. The tragedy reverberates today, Spitz, told Whitten in 2002. "The Games have lost a sense of spontaneity. A sense of the whole world coming together in peaceful competition." On a deeply personal level, the events gave Spitz a sense of "responsibility" about publicly identifying himself as a Jew. "I felt an obligation to affirm my ties as a Jew," he added, "and to become educated on the issues so I could speak knowledgeably."

Spitz quickly became one of the most familiar faces in America, if not the world. His agent boasted that he was the greatest American hero since aviator Charles Lindbergh. He quit swimming, put his plans for dental school on ice, and sifted through the barrage of endorsement offers. In 1973 he signed a contract with the prestigious William Morris Agency, which was supposed to manage his career as a celebrity. That year, he also married Suzy Weiner, a model and theatre student at the University of California, Los Angeles. The latter move proved more successful than the former.

Spitz became the spokesman for the Schick Company, and his commercials promoting its razors were widely aired. He also represented Adidas, the California Milk Advisory Board, Speedo, and various other companies vending everything from swimming pool accessories to hairdryers and men's underwear. An image of the times, a poster of Spitz wearing his swimsuit and seven gold medals, appeared everywhere from college dorms to locker rooms and sporting goods stores. Spitz also had theatrical aspirations and appeared on television shows with luminaries that included Sonny and Cher, Bob Hope, and Johnny Carson. He made a guest appearance in the series Emergency and got a role as an announcer in the 1985 made-for-television movie Challenge of a Lifetime, starring Penny Marshall.

Producers and audiences found Spitz's on-screen persona lackluster. Gradually, advertisers also withdrew from Spitz, saying he was losing his appeal because he endorsed too many products. In addition, public relations executives and agents of the time weren't as savvy about successfully marketing athletes. As a result, Spitz lacked the guidance from his handlers that athletes today receive. In earning a reported $5 million, however, Spitz helped pioneer the lucrative game of athletic endorsements.

One Day in September

More than a quarter century after the Munich massacre, when Palestinian terrorists killed 11 Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics, director Kevin Macdonald made an award-winning documentary on the subject. Narrated by veteran actor Michael Douglas, the film also featured Ankie Spitzer, widow of Israeli fencing coach Andre Spitzer, and the one surviving terrorist, Jamal Al Gashey. "Macdonald brings remarkable research to the film," wrote film critic Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times. "His reporting is extraordinary, as he relentlessly builds up a case against the way the Germans and the International Olympic Committee handled the crisis." The film exposed several unsettling facts, such as the utter incompetence of the German police, the participation of Yassir Arafat, and a covert plan by which the Germans released the three surviving terrorists to disown the whole affair. (The Israeli government later assassinated two of these survivors.) One Day in September won many prizes, including the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature in 2000.

Where Is He Now?

Prior to the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, Spain, Spitz attempted a comeback. But at age 39 and eight pounds heavier than in 1972, he failed to qualify. At the 1998 World Championships in Perth, Australia, Spitz addressed the problems of drug abuse and athletes, and he continues to make personal appearances at various competitions and sporting events. As a member of the World Sports Academy, he works to bring sports to less fortunate children of the world. Following his retirement, Spitz ventured into motivational speaking, real-estate investment, and swimming-pool design. He recently left real estate to focus on his entrepreneurial work. Spitz lives in Los Angeles with his wife and two sons, Matt and Justin. A veteran sailor, Spitz has often participated in the Trans Pacific Yacht Race from Los Angeles to Honolulu. He swims with the masters team at UCLA. "I squeak, rattle, and roll," Spitz said. "I'm swimming because I love it and because it's the best thing I can do to keep myself healthy. It's something I hope to do for the rest of my life."

Self-confident and determined, Mark Spitz became the first swimmer to win seven medals in one Olympiad. That this victory followed the bitter disappointment and chastening during his first Olympic bid, and that it occurred during the most tragic Olympics of all time make Spitz's triumph that much more inspiring.


Address: c/o CMG Worldwide, 8560 Sunset Boulevard, 10th Floor Penthouse, West Hollywood, CA 90069. Fax: 317-570-5500. Phone: 310-854-1005. Online: www.cmgww.com/.


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Sketch by Jane Summer

Mark Spitz

views updated Jun 11 2018

Mark Spitz

American swimmer Mark Spitz (born 1950) is considered to have been the fastest swimmer in history. For six years, beginning in 1966, he dominated the sport, winning a world record seven gold medals in the 1972 Olympics held in Munich, West Germany. This was the most gold medals won by anyone in a single Olympiad, and each of his medal-winning performances broke a world swimming record. Spitz was also named World Swimmer of the Year in 1969, 1971, and 1972.

Encouraged in Competitive Swimming by His Father

Spitz was born on February 10, 1960, in Modesto, California, to Arnold and Lenore Spitz. Spitz's family relocated to Hawaii when Spitz was two years old. There Spitz's father taught Spitz how to swim. When Spitz was six years old, the family moved back to California, settling this time in Sacramento. At the Sacramento YMCA, Spitz began to train in competitive swimming for the first time. Sensing that Spitz had surpassed the training available at the YMCA, Arnold Spitz took his son to the Arden Hills Swim Club, where he began to train under Sherm Chavoor, a well-known swim instructor. Chavoor was to remain a mentor to Spitz throughout his career.

Spitz's father was a driving force behind Spitz's swimming career, drilling into his son the maxim, as reported by M. B. Roberts on ESPN.com, "Swimming isn't everything; winning is." Spitz took his father's advice to heart; by the time he was ten years old, he held 17 national swimming records for his age group and one world record. He also earned the title of the world's top swimmer in the 10-and-under age group.

When Spitz was 14 years old, Spitz's father realized that his son was ready for a new level in his training. He decided to move the family to Santa Clara so that Spitz could train under a new coach, George Haines, who was based at the famous Santa Clara Swim Club. This move increased Spitz's father's commute to work to 80 miles each way, but he wanted more than anything else for his son to become the best swimmer he could.

The move paid off. Spitz continued to reach new levels of excellence in swimming, including in the butterfly stroke. This stroke, considered by many to be the most difficult stroke in swimming, became Spitz's favorite. When Spitz was 16 years old, he won the 100-meter butterfly title at the National Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) Championships. It was the only the first of 24 AAU titles he would win during his career.

Entered His First Olympics in 1968

The year 1967 saw Spitz's rise to international prominence. That year he won no less than five gold metals at the Pan-American Games, held in Winnipeg, Canada. These were for the 100-meter butterfly, the 200-meter butterfly, the 400-meter freestyle relay, the 800-meter freestyle relay, and the 400-meter medley relay.

Spitz seemed perfectly poised to sweep the 1968 Olympics, held that year in Mexico City. He boasted that he would win six gold metals there. While he did shine at the Olympics, he fell short of the goals that he had set for himself, winning two gold medals in team events—for the 4 x 100 and 4 x 200-meter freestyle relay events. He also won two metals for individual events—a silver metal for the 100-meter butterfly and a bronze for the 100-meter freestyle event.

Spitz was disappointed in his showing at the Olympics, and he vowed to try harder. He knew that physically he had what it took to win gold at the Olympics; what he needed to work on was his mental preparation. He began to develop a cool demeanor, an attitude of relaxed concentration that was in marked contrast to the boastful air he had assumed in the 1968 Olympics. Following the 1968 Olympics, Spitz entered college at Indiana University, there to train with famous swimming coach Doc Counsilman. Counsilman had been Spitz's coach in Mexico City, and it was at his instigation that he went to Indiana University.

At Indiana, Spitz began a pre-dental program while continuing to swim competitively. In his freshman year, he won the 200-meter and the 500-meter freestyle, as well as the 100-meter butterfly competition at the NCAA swimming championships. He also won the 100-meter butterfly competition at the NCAA championships the following year. The year after that, 1971, he again won the NCAA championship in the 100-meter butterfly, as well as the 200-meter butterfly. His achievements earned him the Sullivan Award in 1971 for being the best amateur athlete in the United States. He was also awarded the title of World Swimmer of the Year in 1969, 1971, and 1972.

Won Seven Olympic Gold Medals in 1972

Spitz graduated from Indiana University in 1972, just in time for the 1972 Olympics, held in Munich, West Germany. This time, he vowed to take home no less than seven gold medals. And he did. Spitz swept the swimming events exactly as he promised to do, collecting his seventh gold medal on September 4, 1972. No other athlete had ever taken home that many gold medals at a single Olympics. He won gold metals for four individual events and three team events. His first win was for the 200-meter butterfly. Next, he won the 200-meter freestyle, followed by the 100-meter butterfly. This last event was Spitz's favorite, and he won it by a full body length, reaching the finish in just 54.27 seconds. Spitz's final gold metal-winning performance in individual competition was for the 100-meter freestyle event.

In addition to his four individual gold medals, Spitz also won three gold medals for relay races. These were for the 4 x 100-meter freestyle relay, the 4 x 200-meter freestyle relay, and the 4 x 100-meter medley relay. With each gold metal-winning performance Spitz, then just 22, set a new world record for performance. He won all of his gold medals over a period of eight days.

Spitz's euphoria over his record seven gold metals was marred by tragedy. In the early morning hours of September 5, members of a Palestinian terrorist organization invaded the dormitory where the Olympic athletes were sleeping. They killed two Israelis and kidnapped nine others. The terrorists passed over Spitz and his American teammates, who were sound asleep not far away.

The crime rattled Spitz, who is Jewish. He made a brief statement to the press that day, saying, as reported by M. B. Roberts on ESPN.com, "I think the murders in the village are very tragic. I have no further comment." He immediately left Germany for London, without waiting to attend the Olympics' closing ceremonies. Meanwhile, the nine hostages were all killed during a botched rescue attempt.

Returned to the U.S. a Hero

In spite of the tragedy overshadowing Spitz's unprecedented achievements at the Olympics, he returned home to the United States a major celebrity, comparable in stature to Charles Lindbergh, the first person to fly nonstop across the Atlantic Ocean. He was also called by some the second most recognized person in the United States, after then-president Richard Nixon. Spitz cancelled his plans to become a dentist and looked forward to making a career as a corporate spokesperson.

Soon after his return to the U.S., Spitz landed several lucrative corporate endorsement contracts. He earned about $7 million in a two-year period, and, helped by his photogenic looks, established himself as a well-known corporate spokesperson. Companies and organizations for which he endorsed products included the Schick Company, the California Milk Advisory Board, Adidas, Speedo, and many more. A photograph of Spitz wearing a swimsuit and his seven gold medals was made into a poster, and it quickly became a best seller.

Also during the year following the 1972 Olympics, Spitz courted and married Suzy Weiner, the daughter of one of his father's business associates. At the time Weiner was a theater student at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) and also a model.

Spitz's bid to become a Hollywood star was less successful than either his swimming career or his career as a corporate spokesperson; viewers were highly critical of his performances in television commercials and shows, which included a Bob Hope special, the Sonny & Cher show, and the Johnny Carson show. He managed to maintain a presence as a sports commentator for a few years, but after that he largely dropped out of the public eye.

Still, Spitz and his wife now had plenty of money, and he took up sailing as a hobby. Eventually he started a real estate agency in Beverly Hills, California. The business proved successful and it gave a thriving new career to the former swimming champion.

As the 1980s drew to a close, Spitz decided to come out of retirement and become an Olympic swimmer for the first time since 1972. In 1989, now 39 years old, Spitz began to train for the 1992 Olympic Trials. This decision was not completely out of the blue; in 1984 he had raced against Rowdy Gaines, who at the time held the world record time for the 100-meter butterfly—and beat him. After two years of training, Spitz was ready to attempt to qualify for the 1992 Olympics. In 1991 he raced against Tom Jager and Matt Biondi, both Olympic swimmers. The races, two separate 50-meter butterfly races, were televised on ABC's "Wide World of Sports." Unfortunately, Spitz lost both races. He also fell just over two seconds short of the qualifying time of 55:59 he needed to rejoin the U.S. Olympic swim team.

Mark Spitz settled in Los Angeles, where he continues to live with his family. Spitz enjoys to sail and has added traveling to his list of hobbies. No longer in the real estate business, he has involved himself in various other business ventures. He has also returned to his role as a spokesperson for prominent companies and organizations, including the U.S. Olympic Committee. He was found to have abnormally high cholesterol levels in 1995. He cut those levels in half through a program of diet, exercise, and medication, and then embarked on a national campaign to educate people about the risk of heart disease brought about by high cholesterol.

Spitz has not lost his competitive spirit. His backyard contains a swimming pool, but he has vowed never to race his sons in that pool. As he told Martin Fennelly in 2000 in the Tampa Tribune, "I never race them. I never race. Because I've taught them that when I swim against somebody, I don't care if you're my son, I'm going to kick your butt."


Independent, September 6, 1998.

Tampa Tribune, June 16, 2000.

Times-Picayune, September 26, 1999.


"Laureus World Sports Awards—Mark Spitz," WorldSport.com,http://www.worldsport.com (March 11, 2003).

"Spitz Lived Up to Enormous Expectations," ESPN.com,http://www.espn.go.com (March 11, 2003). □

Spitz, Mark Andrew

views updated May 17 2018

SPITZ, Mark Andrew

(b. 10 February 1950 in Modesto, California), swimmer who was the first athlete to win seven gold medals in a single Olympic Games, setting world records in all seven events.

The oldest of three children of Arnold Spitz, a steel executive, and Lenore Spitz, a homemaker, Spitz had been a "water baby" since age two when his father taught him to swim. After his father was transferred from Modesto to Honolulu, Hawaii, Spitz and his mother went to Waikiki Beach every day, and he would hurl himself into the ocean. The family moved to Sacramento, California, when Spitz was eight, and he received his first formal swimming instruction at the local Young Men's Christian Association. By age nine Spitz was being tutored by the noted swimming coach Sherman Chavoor at the Arden Hills Swim Club in Carmichael, California, and working out for an hour or more every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. On Saturdays he had double workouts. At age ten Spitz held seventeen national age-group records and practiced ninety minutes a day, seven days a week.

Basic to Spitz's success as a swimmer was his parents' commitment to making their son a champion. Arnold Spitz stressed the importance of winning, telling his son, "Swimming isn't everything, winning is." Both parents pushed and sacrificed so that their son would have the best chance to win. Spitz's physique also contributed to his success. He was slim and had extraordinarily large, scoop-shaped palms that could push tremendous amounts of water. His knees flexed forward, giving him a thrust that went up to twelve inches deeper in the water than that of his competitors. This flexibility gave him an abnormally long stroke in the butterfly, the most difficult stroke in swimming. He could swim the length of a twenty-five-yard pool with only thirteen strokes; most swimmers require fifteen or sixteen. Taking advantage of Spitz's leg movements and kicking action, Chavoor worked with the swimmer, particularly on his butterfly and freestyle strokes.

When Spitz was fourteen, his father told him that he had reached a peak and could either stay in Sacramento and forget about competitive swimming or go to Santa Clara, California, to be coached by George Haines. The family moved to Walnut Creek, California, in order for Spitz to work with Haines. Spitz and his mother had to get up at 5 a.m. to drive to the 6:30 A. M. practices, which were held forty miles away in Santa Clara. His father commuted 100 miles each day to work. Haines was the coach of the Olympic champion Don Schollander, and Spitz credited Haines with polishing his strokes and techniques, saying, "He gave me my foundation as a swimmer." Spitz did his part, swimming seven miles a day, two and a half hours in the morning and two hours in the evening.

Spitz showed the effects of Haines's coaching by qualifying for the 1964 national Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) championship competition. In August 1965 at the Maccabiah Games in Tel Aviv, Israel, he won four gold medals, three for individual events. In 1966 he won his first national AAU championship in what was to become his best event, the 100-meter butterfly. For Spitz 1967 was a record-breaking year. In June he set the first of his world records, in the 400-meter freestyle. The next month at the Santa Clara International Invitational, he set or tied five U.S. records, and that summer at the Pan-American Games in Winnipeg, Canada, he won five gold medals and set two more world records. September saw another world record in the 110-yard butterfly at a meet in London, England, and in October Spitz set two more world records in Berlin, Germany, in the 100-meter and 200-meter butterfly.

By early 1968 Spitz had become the media's darling, replacing Schollander as the dominant figure in U.S. swimming, and the pressure was building toward the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, Mexico. Spitz qualified at the trials to swim in three individual events and three relays. Haines, the coach of the 1968 Olympic team, indicated that Spitz could win as many as six gold medals. Spitz, increasingly sure of himself because of his recent victories and imbued with his father's drive for him to be a winner, intimated that he would win six golds. However, Spitz failed to win any individual gold medals in Mexico. Haines thought Spitz choked from the pressure. Others blamed it on a cold that prevented Spitz from practicing at the team's high-altitude camp. Some said it was the attitude of his teammates who reportedly cheered for opposing swimmers. Although he did not dominate his three individual events, Spitz did win two gold medals in the relays, a silver in the 100-meter butterfly, and a bronze in the 100-meter freestyle. He came in dead last in the finals of the 200-meter butterfly, an event in which he held the world record.

Spitz graduated from Santa Clara High School in June 1968, but delayed entering college because of the Olympics. In January 1969 he enrolled as a predental student at Indiana University, a school noted for its championship swim team and the swimming coach James E. ("Doc") Counsilman. Spitz had a history of being a loner and uncooperative, but Counsilman made sure that members of the Indiana team judged Spitz on his behavior, not his reputation. Spitz's teammates gave him a chance, and Counsilman provided much-needed emotional support. Spitz fit in and eventually was elected as the team co-captain. Indiana was a powerhouse in swimming, and in March 1969 Spitz played a major role in securing the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) championship. He won three events, two in U.S. record time. For Spitz, it was like a comeback. In July he won three events at the Santa Clara International Invitational, tying records in each. Later in the month he won six gold medals at the Maccabiah Games.

Spitz continued to win and set records in the 1970s. In 1971 he set seven world and two U.S. records and won four national and two collegiate championships. In August 1971 at the AAU championships he won four events, setting two world records. This feat reestablished Spitz as "the cynosure of American swimming," according to William F. Reed in a September 1971 Sports Illustrated article. Once again Spitz was seen as a major contender for gold medals at the upcoming Olympics.

Spitz's accomplishments were recognized when he received the Sullivan Award as the outstanding amateur athlete of the year. In March 1972 he led Indiana to its fifth consecutive NCAA swimming title. At the Olympic trials in August, he set a world record in the 200-meter butterfly and qualified for participation in four individual events and three relay races. The specter of his failure at the 1968 Olympics was raised, but Spitz's former coach Sherm Chavoor, who now coached the women's Olympic team, stated that Spitz was physically stronger and emotionally more mature.

At six feet tall and weighing 170 pounds, Spitz was in shape. Resembling the actor Omar Sharif, he looked good. Unlike other swimmers who shaved their heads for competitions, Spitz kept his hair and his mustache for good luck. In Munich, Germany, Spitz was more careful with the press and comfortable with his teammates than he had been in Mexico City. His performance at the 1972 Olympics made history. Spitz's first event was the 200-meter butterfly; he knocked 2.6 seconds off his own world record to win the gold medal. Later that night he earned another gold medal in the 400-meter freestyle relay, swimming anchor. The next night he won the 200-meter freestyle. Two days later he won the 100-meter butterfly and earned a gold in the 800-meter freestyle relay. He made history in the 100-meter freestyle, becoming the first modern Olympic athlete to win six gold medals. Then he won a seventh in the 400-meter medley relay, swimming the butterfly. Unfortunately, Spitz could not stay in Munich to savor his victories. Just hours after his final race, Palestinian terrorists kidnapped and murdered members of the Israeli Olympic team. Spitz, who is Jewish, was flown home.

Spitz retired from competitive swimming immediately following the 1972 Olympics. After fourteen years of effort, he was ready to try something different. He graduated from Indiana with a B.S. in 1972 and was accepted to dental school, but he put school on hold and signed with the William Morris Agency, which guided him into a number of lucrative product endorsements. The handsome athlete was highly marketable, and a poster of Spitz wearing nothing but his swimsuit, mustache, and seven gold Olympic medals was second in all-time popularity to the Betty Grable pinup of World War II. Over a two-year period, Spitz made more than $7 million. He married Susan Weiner, a college student and part-time model, on 6 May 1973; they had two sons. Spitz owned a surf-wear business and was involved in real estate. He wrote the Mark Spitz Complete Book of Swimming (1976), with Alan LeMond, and Seven Golds: Mark Spitz ' Own Story: The Growing Up of a Gold Medal Swimmer (1981). Spitz was named the World Swimmer of the Year in 1969, 1971, and 1972.

In 1990 Spitz decided to train for the 1992 Olympics for the 100-meter butterfly, but did not qualify for the team. However, he continued to work out with the masters swim team at the University of California at Los Angeles. Spitz told Sports Illustrated in August 1997, "I squeak, rattle, and roll," but, "I enjoy the camaraderie."

Spitz was one of the greatest swimmers of all time. In his competitive career he set thirty-two world records and, in two Olympics, he won nine gold medals, one silver, and one bronze. He suffered the defeat and humiliation of the Mexico City Olympics and worked for the next four years to redeem himself. His victories in Munich became part of Olympic legend.

A principle source of information is Spitz's autobiography, Seven Golds: Mark Spitz ' Own Story: The Growing Up of a Gold Medal Swimmer (1981). See also the essay in Bill Libby, Stars of the Olympics (1975). Helpful articles include "Water Baby to Beat," Time (12 Apr. 1968), for background on his life and physical strengths; "Kicking Up a Storm," Newsweek (16 Sept. 1968), for Coach Haines's comments; "Growing Up to the Legend," Time (25 July 1969), for reflections about the Mexico City Olympics. A lengthy article with good background is William F. Reed, "'Swimming Isn't Everything, Winning Is,'" Sports Illustrated (6 Mar. 1970). For information on the Munich Olympics, see Jerry Kirshenbaum, "Mexico to Munich: Mark Spitz and the Quest for Gold," Sports Illustrated (4 Sept. 1972); and the cover story, "Spitz uber Alles in Deutschland," Time (11 Sept. 1972). More recent articles are Kenny Moore, "Bionic Man: Olympic Champion Mark Spitz Plans Comeback at 39," Sports Illustrated (23 Oct. 1989), and Susan Reed, "Superswimmer Mark Spitz, 39, Aims for the '92 Olympics," People Weekly (15 Jan. 1990).

Marcia B. Dinneenm

Spitz, Mark Andrew

views updated May 11 2018


SPITZ, MARK ANDREW (1950– ), U.S. swimmer, holder of the record for most gold medals won in a single Olympics with seven, and tied for most gold medals overall with nine; member of the International Swimming Hall of Fame and U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame. Born in Modesto, California, the eldest of three children to Lenore and Arnold, a steel executive, Spitz began swimming at age two, when his family moved to Honolulu and Spitz would swim at Waikiki Beach every day. The family returned to California four years later, and Spitz received his first competitive training at six at the Sacramento ymca. By the time he was 10, he held 17 national age-group records and one world record, the 50-yard butterfly, which he completed in 31 seconds, and was named "the world's best 10-and-under swimmer." The family moved to Santa Clara when Spitz was 14, so he could train at the famed Santa Clara Swim Club. In 1965 at age 15, he swam at the Maccabiah games in his first international competition, winning four gold medals. At age 16 he won the 100-meter butterfly at the 1966 National aau Championships, the first of his 24 aau titles. The next year he won five gold medals at the Pan-American Games in Winnipeg, and laid claim to ten world records. By the time Spitz was 18, he had won 26 national and international titles, and broken 10 world and 28 U.S. records. At the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City, where much was expected of him, Spitz came away disappointed after predicting he would win six gold medals. He won two gold medals, in the 4 × 100 m and 4 × 200 m freestyle relays, a silver medal in the 100m butterfly, and bronze in the 100m freestyle. Spitz spent the next four years at Indiana University, winning almost every conceivable award and setting almost every world record in existence, as he prepared for the 1972 Olympics in Munich. He returned to Israel for the 1969 Maccabiah Games, winning another six gold medals. By the spring of 1972, Spitz had set 23 world records and 35 U.S. records. Driven by ambition and sheer single-mindedness, Spitz won seven Olympic gold medals in 1972 at the Munich Games – a feat unequaled by any Olympic athlete – with a world record in each of the seven events (the 100 m freestyle, 200 m freestyle, 100 m butterfly, 200 m butterfly, 4 × 100 m and 4 × 200 m freestyle, and the 4 × 100 m medley). The next week he was on the September 11, 1972, cover of Time magazine. Spitz's 11 total medals in the two Olympics are tied for the most medals ever won by a U.S. Olympian. Hours after he won his last medal, Palestinian terrorism claimed the lives of 11 Israeli sportsmen, and security personnel whisked Spitz out of Munich. Over his career, Spitz set 26 individual world records in the freestyle and butterfly, contributing to another seven relay world records; 38 American records; 24 National aau championships; and eight ncaa titles. He was named "World Swimmer of the Year" in 1967, 1971, and 1972 and became the first Jewish recipient of the James E. Sullivan Award in 1971, given annually to the Amateur Athlete of the Year. Spitz attempted a comeback at age 41 in an attempt to qualify for the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, after filmmaker Bud *Greenspan offered to pay him a million dollars if he succeeded in qualifying. Filmed by Greenspan's cameras, Spitz failed to beat the qualifying limit – his best time was 58:03, but he needed 55:59. Spitz was named a member of the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1977 and the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame in 1983. He wrote The Mark Spitz Complete Book of Swimming (1976) and his autobiography, Seven Golds: Mark Spitz Own Story (1981).

[Elli Wohlgelernter (2nd ed.)]