Mark Spitz with his 7 Olympic gold medals
Mark Spitz with his 7 Olympic gold medals

Born: 10 February 1950

Country: U.S.A

Eighteen years old and holder of ten world records, Mark Spitz proclaimed before the 1968 Summer Olympics that he was going to win six gold medals. Mark failed to win a single individual race. Although he won two team gold medals he knew he had underperformed.

At the 1972 Munich Olympics, Mark had another chance at Olympic glory. This time too he didn’t win six gold medals, he won seven! Mark Spitz won all the events he participated in setting a world record in each of them. It was after 36 years that his record of seven gold medals at a single Olympic Games was broken by Michael Phelps at Beijing.

People considered Mark to be self-obsessed. “Spitz was a man born without tact or compassion” said one of his contemporaries. When asked about how he felt as a Jew to be so successful on German soil, he replied, “I always liked this country – even though this lampshade is probably made out of one of my aunts.”

Following the Munich Olympics, even though he was still only 22, Spitz retired from competition. “There is something very depressing about being the best in the world at something,” he said later. “I was programmed for all those years. I swam two and a half hours in the morning and two in the evening, maybe seven miles a day for six years, and during all those hours I’d think about getting out of the pool at the end of the session and how pleasant that was going to be. I loved to think about getting out.” In 1991 Mark Spitz tried to make a comeback but failed to qualify for the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.

Mark Spitz at the 1972 Munich Olympics
American swimmer Mark Spitz gets out of the pool at the 1972 Munich Olympics

When Michael Phelps broke his record, Spitz said, “He is the single greatest Olympic athlete of all time now. I always wondered what my feelings would be. I feel a tremendous load off my back.” Mark still remains one of only five athletes who have won nine or more Olympic gold medals.

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