Olympic Spotlight: Swimming's Mark Spitz and Michael Phelps
July 8, 2008
by Jeff Smith
With the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympic Games quickly approaching, BigTen.org takes a look at both former and current Olympians who have made their mark in their respective sports. In today's "Olympic Spotlight" feature, we take a look at the Olympic careers of Indiana's Mark Spitz and Michigan volunteer assistant swimming coach Michael Phelps - arguably two of the greatest swimmers and Olympians in any sport of all time.
MARK SPITZ, SWIMMING, INDIANA, 1968-72
During the infamous 1972 Games, Spitz recorded gold-medal winning performances in the following events: 100 and 200-meter butterfly, 100 and 200-meter freestyle, 4x100 and 4x200-meter freestyle relays, and the 4x100-meter medley relay.
Spitz first began his Olympic run in 1968 with 10 world records on his resume. He predicted that he would leave Mexico City with six gold medals, however he could only muster the two team relay golds. He placed second in the 100-meter butterfly and took home the bronze in the 100-meter freestyle. In the butterfly competition, Spitz lost by half a second to Doug Russell, a fellow American whom Spitz beat the previous 10 occasions earlier that year. Russell earned his second gold medal and took Spitz's position in the 4x100-meter medley relay squad.
Spitz's physical and religious attributes were also the center of attention during the Munich Games in 1972. Several onlookers were amazed by the fact that while other competitors shaved their entire bodies of hair, Spitz earned his seven gold medals and world records while donning a thick mustache. Tragically, Spitz's magical Olympiad was overshadowed by the Palestinian terrorism attack of the village that housed the Israeli athletes. Eleven of those competitors lost their lives, and Spitz, who is Jewish, immediately left Munich and did not attend the Games' closing ceremonies.
Following the personal disappointment of the 1968 Olympics, Spitz opted to attend Indiana and continue training with legendary coach Doc Counsilman, who was also his coach in Mexico City. During his time in Bloomington, Spitz recorded eight NCAA championships and 13 Big Ten titles, while being named the World Swimmer of the Year in 1969, 1971 and 1972. In 1971, he won the Sullivan Award as the top amateur athlete in the nation.
MICHAEL PHELPS, SWIMMING, MICHIGAN, 2004-Present (Volunteer Assistant)
"What do I project for Michael Phelps in Beijing?" Spitz said to the Associated Press on July 2. "A success story for all times sake."
Phelps is no stranger to Olympic history. At the 2000 Sydney Games and the age of 15, he became the youngest male Olympian since 1932. In addition, he was also the youngest ever to break a world record. At the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Phelps dominated the swimming scene by capturing eight total medals at the Games, becoming the first athlete ever to win eight at a non-boycotted Olympic Games. His overall medal count tied 1980 USSR gymnast Alexandr Dityatin for most medals by an athlete in a single Olympics. Phelps fell just shy of Spitz's gold-medal mark in 2004 by winning six events in the both individual medleys, both butterflies, the 400-meter medley relay and 800-meter freestyle relay. He took home the bronze in the 200-meter freestyle and 400-meter free relay.
At the 2007 World Championships in Australia, Phelps matched the record of seven gold medals in an international competition and set five world records in doing so. He holds six overall world records and just bettered two marks at the Olympic Trials in Omaha, Neb. He swam the 200-meter individual medley in 1:54.80 and the 400-meter individual medley in 40:05.25.
Phelps was born in Baltimore, Md., and is currently majoring in sports management at Michigan. Following the 2008 Olympics, Wolverine head coach Bob Bowman will resign his position to become the CEO of the North Baltimore Athletic Club and continue coaching Phelps.