Historical Swimmer Spotlight: Mark Spitz

When you think of famous swimmers, the first name that comes to mind is probably Michael Phelps. But, believe it or not, he’s not the only swimmer (nor the first) to have broken world records and gained Olympic fame. Let’s go back several years to examine the life of perhaps the greatest swimmer in swimming history: Mark Spitz.

Mark Andrew Spitz was born on February 10, 1950 in Modesto, California, to Arnold and Lenore Spitz. His parents were Jews who left Hungary following World War II. He got his start as a swimmer at the age of two, when his family moved to Honolulu, Hawaii, where he went swimming every day in the ocean. He began competing formally at the age of six at a local swim club when his family moved to Sacramento, California.

When he turned nine, he was lucky enough to begin training under Sherm Chavoor, who mentored seven Olympic medal winners including Spitz. By the time he was 10, Spitz had already gained 17 national records for his age group and one world record.

In high school, he trained with George Haines of the Santa Clara Swim Club. As he swam in competitions over the next four years, he held national high school records in every stroke and in every distance.

In 1968, after gaining ten world records, Spitz went to the Summer Olympics in Mexico City. Confident of his abilities, he predicted that he would win six golds. As it turns out, he only won two team golds, one in the 4×100 meter freestyle relay and one in the 4×200 meter freestyle relay. He also received a silver in the 100 meter butterfly race, losing the gold by only half a second.

Needless to say, the 1968 Olympics didn’t quite meet his expectations. He decided to attend Indiana University a year later in order to train under the legendary coach Doc Counsilman, his coach for the Olympics.

After studying at the university for a few years and setting a few more world records, Spitz entered the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich. Once again, he set a goal to get six gold medals, and this time he did that and more, leaving the Olympic games with seven gold medals, gaining gold in each of the categories he competed in.

Spitz retired at the age of 22 following the Munich Olympics, though he didn’t stop swimming. In 1999, ESPN SportsCentury 50 Greatest Athletes ranked Spitz at number 33, the first aquatic athlete to ever make the list. He resides in California with his wife Suzy where he remains a legend and idol to many olympic swimmers.

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