Olympic legends: Mark Spitz – Superlative Seven

Mark Spitz won the maximum number of gold medals in a single Games until then – seven in all and each with a world record to boot at Munich 1972.

Mark Spitz's claim to fame was not by virtue of the dental school certificate he carried, but as a stealth bomber in the pool and a record that would stand for a good 36 years.   -  Getty Images

Standing 6 feet, 1 inch with a heavy build and a handsome face with a dripping moustache, Spitz was the quintessential macho man of the 1970s. His claim to fame, though, was not by virtue of the dental school certificate he carried, but as a stealth bomber in the pool and a record that would stand for a good 36 years.

Munich 1972 was blemished by the Palestinian attack on the Israeli delegation and would have been buried but for the single-handed effort of Spitz, who won the maximum number of gold medals in a single Games until then – seven in all and each with a world record to boot. So, in more ways than one, it certainly would not be far from the truth if one were to portray this American swimmer as the one who helped the Olympic movement survive in its journey ahead.

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Spitz was taught the basics of swimming when he was only two years old, by his father, who also drilled it into his son that “swimming isn’t everything, winning is.” The early start put Spitz in an advantageous position when compared to his peers to that the extent that he held as many as 17 national age-group records when he was only 10. His growing prowess in the sport was also to result in his family shifting base so that Spitz could train at he famed Santa Clara Swim Club in California.

Spitz continued to excel and what coaches found in him a plus was his mastery over the sport’s most difficult stroke, the butterfly. At 16, he gained the first of his 24 national Amateur Athletic Union titles, and with several records under his belt, Spitz was already seen as a prospective Olympic champion. The prophecy looked to come true when the American struck it rich at the 1967 Pan American Games in Winnipeg, winning five golds.

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All eyes thereby were on Spitz at Mexico 1968, but the 18-year-old could only win two golds, both in relays, besides an individual silver and a bronze. For someone so young, he was to repent his own brashness that he was in the high-altitude city to win as many as individual gold medals. Obviously, Spitz was disappointed and vowed he would return.

Four years later, Spitz did just that with his superlative seven, with wins in the 100m and 200m freestyle and the two butterfly events over the same distances and then the three relays, the 400m and 800m freestyle and the 400m medley, and having the world dancing at his feet.

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