The Jewish athlete Mark Andrew Spitz was born in Modesto, California, USA on the 10th of February, 1950. He is widely considered to be one of the greatest athletes of all time and was named swimmer of the year three times in 1969, 1971 and 1972. No other athlete of any sport has walked away with seven gold models from a single Olympics since he did so at the 1972 Munich Olympic Games. Spitz was voted both athlete of the century in water sports and one of the greatest Olympians of all time in by Sports Illustrated Magazine in 2000. Furthermore he was named as one of five athletes of the century by the International Olympic Committee.
Mark’s family moved to Hawaii when he was two and he began swimming at an early age. By the time he was six Mark was competing at his local pool in Sacramento, back in California. Three years later, having demonstrated considerable talent, Mark was swimming under the tutelage of Coach Sherm Chavoor, a man who mentored another six Olympic medalists. By the tender age of 10 Mark held 17 national and one world age-group record.
Champion of champions
Mark Spitz first defined himself as a truly world class athlete at the V Pan American Games in 1967. He won 5 gold medals at the event and remained the only person to have done so for some 40 years until Thiago Pereira from Brazil won six golds when the event was hosted in Rio in 2007. With 10 world records behind him and his confidence running high, Spitz publicly declared that he would take home 6 golds from the 1968 Summer Olympics to be held in Mexico City. Overconfidence seems to have been the order of the day however, as the 18 year old Mark Spitz failed to live up to his claims, returning with only two golds and both of them in team events. Meanwhile he came in at second and third in the 100 metre butterfly and 100 metre freestyle respectively.
Beaten but not down, Spitz returned four years later to make good his boast, this time outdoing himself. In the 1972 Summer Olympics held in Munich, Germany Mark Spitz made history by being the first (and still the only) athlete to walk away with seven Olympic golds. Not only did he surpass his own target of six, he broke world records in each and every event that he won.
Sadly, the 1972 Olympic Games were both a cause for Jewish celebration and international lament. As Mark Spitz walked away with an unrivalled haul of Olympic golds, Israel lost 11 athletes to a botched kidnap attempt by the Black September terrorist organisation. As a result Spitz was unable to attend the closing ceremony; however his achievement stands as a benchmark of sporting excellence, yet to be surpassed.
Retirement and comeback
After the Munich games Spitz decided on retirement, at the age of 22. His natural charisma, drop dead good looks and legendary sporting reputation saw a brief flutter in the limelight as Hollywood sought to cash in on Spitz’s marketability. He was even rumored to have been an option for the next James Bond, a role that eventually went to Roger Moore. A few brief appearances on different TV shows rapidly petered out however and Spitz returned to the ‘real world’, moving into property development with some friends.
This was not to be the last that the world of sport or the silver screen was to hear of Mark Spitz however. Under an offer of a million dollars from eight time Emmy award winning film director Bud Greenspan if successful, Mark Spitz attempted to qualify for the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona. At age 41 Spitz was almost as fit as in his heyday and made times similar to his qualifying attempts more than 20 years earlier. In the meantime the competition had moved on however and 1970s qualifying times were outstripped by 1990s.
Mark Spitz continues to be celebrated as the greatest swimmer of all time, his achievements set a standard which still has not been beaten and he continues to be a source of inspiration and a challenge for modern day swimmers such as Michael Phelps. Mark Spitz lives with his wife Suzy and two sons Mathew and Justin (both keen sportsmen) in Los Angeles. Mark now works as a stockbroker and financial adviser in addition to giving motivational speeches.