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William F. Reed
March 09, 1970
That was the credo Arnold Spitz instilled in his son and until the '68 Olympics Mark Spitz lived up to it. Now the troubled boy has matured and is winning for himself
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March 09, 1970

'swimming Isn't Everything, Winning Is'

That was the credo Arnold Spitz instilled in his son and until the '68 Olympics Mark Spitz lived up to it. Now the troubled boy has matured and is winning for himself

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The switch to Santa Clara wasn't accomplished without sacrifices. Haines' swimmers worked out every other morning at 6:30 a.m., which meant that Mark and his mother had to get up at 5 and drive the 40 miles from Walnut Creek to Santa Clara to make the workouts. They did this from February to June, when Arnold Spitz quit his employer of 18 years, took a job with Schnitzer and moved his family to Santa Clara, which meant that he had to make an 80-mile round trip.

"I didn't feel any pressure in the sense that I had to do good because my parents had moved," Mark says. "There was never any obligation. It was obvious I came there to get better coaching."

A husky man who takes himself very seriously, Haines is something of an enigma, even to those who have swum for him for years. He is singularly devoted to swimming, and his ability is respected around the world, yet Haines insists on remaining distant, even aloof, from the youngsters who occupy so much of his time and energy. He has strict rules about never accepting phone calls and visitors at his home. Although they worked together for five years, although their lives and purposes were completely devoted to each other at the very top of a highly emotional sport, Mark Spitz never set foot in George Haines' home. Perhaps, of course, Haines gives so much of himself at the pool that he needs utter solitude at home to relax and recharge. Even today every member of the Spitz family gives Haines the credit for making Mark the swimmer he is.

The results of Haines' coaching were immediate. In 1964, at 14, Spitz qualified for the national AAUs. The next year he made his first trip to the Maccabiah Games in Israel. In 1966 he came within four-tenths of a second of breaking the world record for the 1,500-yard freestyle, and the next June, at an obscure meet in California, he set a world record for the 400-meter freestyle (4:10.6).

That was the first of several world or American records broken by Spitz in the very good year of 1967. He set or tied five American records at the Santa Clara International Invitational. In London he swam a world-record 56.3 in the 110-yard butterfly. The next week, in Berlin, he broke two more world records, in the 100-meter butterfly (55.7) and the 200-meter butterfly (2:05.7). His most impressive performance of the year—and, perhaps, of his career—came in the 1967 Pan-American Games in Winnipeg where he set two more world records and won five gold medals. He was named World Swimmer of the Year by Swimming World magazine. Letters and newspaper clippings piled up faster than Lenore Spitz could paste them in her scrap-books. One fan was even moved to hail Mark in verse:

I saw him once, a youth of seventeen,
Who challenged fame: I saw him dive and plunge
In eager competition, take the scene
From elders, and at once their names expunge
From grandeur; but the triumph that he gained
Was never cause for vanity and pride:
A friend as well as victor he remained,
A generous companion who defied
The call of arrogance. I saw him smile
In gracious triumph, happily receive
The trophies which had power to defile
A lesser spirit; when he takes his leave,
Let grateful recollection hold him near,
While in our minds the past lives ever clear.
Wade Wellman

Not everyone saw Spitz in these terms. "He talks all the time," said the mother of one Santa Clara swimmer. "He's always doing stunts to attract attention. I can't say he's a hot dog because he's so great in the pool. Maybe he's just conceited."

Retorts Arnold Spitz: "Mark has a great sense of who and what he is. Mark is analytical, brutally so. Anybody who is outstanding has to possess this value. He's so brutal with his honesty that some people can't accept it right away. And there is some egotism, but every outstanding person must have some egotism. Cassius Clay is obnoxious, but I love him."

Arnold Spitz could understand petty jealousy among children, but there were more reprehensible displays. On occasion Mark was spat at, scratched, elbowed, kicked in the groin. Accidents perhaps? Horsing around? Possibly, but there was no doubt in Arnold Spitz' mind about the intent of the anti-Semitic gibes. "When I was a youngster I used to fight, but that wasn't the way," he says. "So I told Mark to shove it down their throats with times. Let them talk, but beat the hell out of them in the pool. This is one thing that has made him so tough—and if he feels no obligation to the Santa Clara Swim Club, there is a reason for it."

In retrospect, Arnold Spitz blames George Haines for "sticking his head in the sand" while Mark and his peers were growing more and more at odds, but Haines maintains that the situation was never as one-sided or as vicious as Spitz' father suggests.

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