Born in Modesto, California in 1950, Mark Spitz swam competitively in college for Indiana University before training for the Olympics. Spitz competed at both the 1968 and 1972 Olympic Games, and in 1972, he set a world record for the most gold medals received during a single Olympic Games. He won seven gold medals that year, across individual and team events. Spitz's record was broken by American swimmer Michael Phelps at the 2008 Summer Olympic Games, held in Beijing; Phelps won eight gold medals in 2008 and continues to hold the record for most gold medals won in a single Olympics, as well as the record for the most Olympic medals won.
Early Years and Competitions
Mark Andrew Spitz was born into a Jewish family in Modesto, California, on February 10, 1950. After moving to Hawaii at age 2, he learned how to swim from his father, Arnold. The young Spitz took to the water like a fish, swimming nearly every day at Waikiki Beach.
The family returned to California after four years in Hawaii, and Spitz soon began competitive swimming. By age 9, he was training at the Arden Hills Swim Club in Sacramento under Sherm Chavoor, a famed instructor who would become a lifelong mentor.
At 10, Spitz was already on track for Olympic success. He held 17 national age-group records and one world mark, and was named the world’s best 10-and-under swimmer. Spitz won the first of 24 AAU titles in 1966, and the following year he captured five gold medals at the Pan-American Games in Winnipeg, Canada.
Spitz entered the 1968 Summer Olympic Games in Mexico City brimming with confidence, even going so far as to predict he’d win six gold medals. He did win two golds, but both came in team events; he collected a silver in the 100-meter butterfly and bronze in the 100-meter freestyle.
Following the disappointment in Mexico City, Spitz enrolled at Indiana University. He earned a pre-dental degree and brought a renewed focus to his swimming, racking up more first-place finishes and additional world records.
Spitz was better prepared for the competition at the 1972 Olympics in Munich, West Germany, and this time he lived up to his lofty standards.
Wearing what would become the Games’ most famous mustache, Spitz claimed a record seven gold medals across individual and team competitions, with all seven times setting world records. Not everybody was thrilled with his success, however, as the swimmer irritated both teammates and opponents with his cockiness.
Spitz’s triumphs became a sidebar in the wake of the kidnapping and murder of 11 Israeli Olympic team members by Palestinian terrorists. With officials concerned for the safety of Spitz, he was quickly escorted out of West Germany before the close of the Olympics.
Post-Olympic and Personal Life
Just days after the Munich Games, Spitz announced his retirement. But instead of going to dental school and fading from memory, he managed to leverage his success into lucrative commercial opportunities. In 1973, he married a UCLA theater student and part-time model named Suzy Weiner, with whom he had two sons.
Spitz had earned $6 million through endorsements and other deals by 1974. However, a strong push to make it in Hollywood never panned out, as the swimming great was criticized for his acting ability. Spitz eventually settled into life in Los Angeles and started a successful real estate company in Beverly Hills. He also became a popular motivational speaker.
In the early 1990s, Spitz attempted to make a comeback by competing for a spot on the U.S. Olympic swimming team, but he failed to qualify. His seven golds in a single Olympics remained a record until 2008, when American swimmer Michael Phelps surpassed him by winning eight events.
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