Mark Andrew Spitz, the world renowned nine-time Olympic champion, and former world record-holder in 7 events, is said to hold more medals than any other Jewish athlete in the history of the Olympics. Here are some really interesting facts to known about the former competitive swimmer, widely referred to as “Mark the Shark:”
He was born Mark Andrew Spitz, on February 10, 1950, in Modesto, California. He was the oldest of three children to Lenore and Arnold Spitz.
He is Jewish by faith and descendent of Hungarian and Russian immigrants. His was father was a steel company executive.
When he was two years old, Spitz learned the rudiments of swimming at the Waikiki beach at Honolulu, Hawaii and aged six he received his first competitive instruction at YMCA, at Sacramento, California.
As nine years old he joined Arden Hills Swim Club, in Sacramento and was coached by Sherm Chavoor, who became his lifelong mentor.
He was considered the world’s best under-10 swimmers with 17 national age group and one world record.He joined the Santa Clara Swim Club to train under famed coach George F. Haines when he was 14 years old.
Spitz was 15 when won four gold medals at the Maccabiah Games in Tel Aviv, in August 1965. He was named the most outstanding athlete. He again returned in 1969, to bag six more gold medals and was judged once again as the outstanding athlete of the games.
Spitz graced Maccabiah Games as the chief guestin 1985, toinaugurate it along with three children of Israeli Olympian murdered at Munich Olympics. These games are international Jewish and Israeli multi sports events.
At the age of 16 years, he set the 100 meter butterfly record at the AAU Championship, the first of 24 AAU titles.
In 1967, he won five gold medals at the Pan-American Games in Winnipeg, a record which lasted until 2007. The record was battered by Thiago Pereira of Brazil with six gold medals.
He did not live up to the expectation at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City, winning one silver in the 100m butterfly and a bronze in the 100m freestyle events. Although he also won two gold medals in the team events, much was expected in the individual events.
In 1969, he joined Indiana University and decided to work under Doc Counsilman, the Olympic team coach. According to him it was the best decision of his life.
As a pre-dental student, Spitz continued to accumulate awards, medals and records. He won eight individual NCAA titles and won the Sullivan Award as the country’s top amateur athlete in 1971.
At the 1972 Munich Olympics, he won seven gold medals, one more than his expectation with world records in each of the seven events.
He is the first athlete to win seven gold medals in a single Olympic Games. He was reluctant to go for seventh gold medal in the 100m freestyle, fearing less-than gold medal finish will be considered a failure.
During the medal presentation ceremony at Munich Olympic, for his 200m freestyle race, he waved his shoesto the crowd which was mistaken as a product placement. Later he was cleared after it was revealed that the gesture was innocent for the shoes were old and he was not paid.
After the Munich Olympics he retired from competitive swimming when he was only 22 years old.Spitz is one of the five Olympians to win nine or more career gold medals. MichaelPhelps has the maximum, with 23 gold medals.
After the Munich Massacre by Palestine terrorists, the American Jewish athletes Spitz and javelin thrower Bill Schmidt were given protection by the U.S Marines.
In 1992, he made an attempt to qualify for the 1992 Summer Olympics, after he was offered a million dollar by the film maker Bud Greenspan. Aged 41, he was as good as his medal winning time but not good enough to qualify.
Spitz was rated 33 among the ESPN Sports Century 50 Greatest Athlete in 1999. He was the only swimmer in the list. A poster featuring Spitz in his swimsuit with seven gold medals was the hottest pin-up.
He starred in number of TV show following his retirement. He made his debut in a skit as a dentist in Bob Hope special that was aired on October 05, 1972.
In 1976, he took up sports presentation with ABC Sports and covered the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal and 1984 Summer Olympics at Los Angeles.
He appeared in an ad for the California Milk Advisory Board and in number of Schick razor commercials. He went on to appear in other ads for Play Station, Sprint PCS, GoDaddy and the infomercial for the ‘Orbitrek Elite’ fitness workout.
After his showbiz career ended when Hollywood quit calling and the commercial clients backed off, he took up new hobby of sailing. He also started a successful real-estate company in Beverly Hill. In 2002, he became a stockbroker.
In 2006, he received critical acclaim for his narration of ‘Freedom’s Furry’ a Hungarian documentary about the Olympic water polo team’s famous Blood in the Water match against Soviet Union.
Spitz married Suzy Weiner, a UCLA Theatre student and part time model on May 06, 1973, in a traditional Jewish ceremony at the Beverly Hills Hotel. They have two sons, Matthew and Justin.
In July 2008, his autobiography ‘The Extraordinary Life of An Olympic Champion’ by Richard J. Foster was released. He travels world over delivering around 25 lectures a year.
Contrary to every swimmer shaving their body hair, Spitz sported a moustache for which he received adulation. His explanation of moustache theory in swimming to the Russian had their swimmer sporting a moustache in the following year.
He was diagnosed with acid reflux disease probably due to overexposure to chlorine and eating too soon before and after swimming. He is also under medication for high cholesterol and other chronic health issue.
Spitz was critical of swimming’s world bodies, FINA and IOC, in their incompetence in keeping drugs out of sports. He said IOC has sponsors who demand a good show for which Television pays. Drug news and drug distraction are not a good shows.
He was named World Swimmer of the Year in 1969, 1971 and 1972 by Swimming World Magazine.