knew Mark as well as anyone and I probably still do," says Haines. "I
understand that he has matured a lot and I hope so, because that was his
biggest fault. His trouble with his teammates came because he would say
something before he thought. Immaturity. I think he was kidded a lot, and
razzed, but down deep every kid was glad he was on this team. Whatever problems
he had with his teammates was a 50-50 proposition. If a kid in high school is
great, there is a lot of jealousy. I'll say this for Mark; whenever he said he
could do something, he could do it."
notwithstanding, it was obvious early in 1968 that Spitz had displaced Don
Schollander as the cynosure of American swimming and the country's best bet for
several gold medals at the Olympics. The only question, in fact, seemed to be
whether Spitz would try to become the first swimmer to top Schollander's 1964
feat of winning four golds in a single Olympics. Happily, or so it seemed at
the time, the U.S. Olympic swimming coach was none other than George Haines.
Early in the year the master and his star pupil mapped their Olympic plans.
After taking everything into consideration, including the spacing of the events
and the high-altitude factor, Spitz and Haines concluded privately that Spitz
could win five—and possibly six—gold medals.
"I felt that
the events were far enough apart that it wouldn't bother him," says Haines.
"Maybe we tried to do too much, but I don't think so. The only thing I
worried about was him being so young and whether the pressure would get to him.
I think it probably did."
more or less on schedule through the Olympic Trials. Spitz acquitted himself
splendidly, qualifying for three individual events (100-and 200-meter butterfly
and 100-meter freestyle) and three relays. Although Spitz denies saying
publicly that he hoped to win six gold medals, Haines was quoted as saying,
"Personally, I think he can swim them all," and that was enough for the
press. Stories with such headlines as six MEDALS FOR SPITZ? and SPITZ PLANS
BUSY OLYMPIC CAMPAIGN popped up regularly.
Then came Spitz'
highly publicized downfall in Mexico City. A number of explanations were
offered: he was still suffering from the serious cold that had sapped his
strength and caused him to miss the first 13 practices at the U.S. team's
pre-Olympic high-altitude camp in Colorado Springs. Haines had over-scheduled
him. Spitz was disturbed because some of his teammates formed a clique that
cold-shouldered him and even pulled for him to lose (there were rumors of a
near-mutiny after Haines put Spitz on the 4 x 200 freestyle relay). Or, as
Haines himself suggests, maybe Spitz choked.
giving any excuses for the Olympics," says Spitz. "When I'm 60 and look
back, I might not feel too bad with four medals. [He wound up with two golds in
the relays, a silver in the 100-meter butterfly and a bronze in the 100-meter
freestyle.] I don't feel bad toward George. Why should I? I can just be
disappointed in myself. I didn't swim up to my potential. I had the worst meet
of my life."
"I think the time he lost in Colorado was a factor—but he was fairly close
to normal in Mexico. As for his trouble with his teammates, some of the older
guys took his immaturity as conceit. He brought it on himself, but the older
boys should have known better. I don't think it was as bad as has been
has his head in the sand again," says Arnold Spitz. "Superman wouldn't
come out of the telephone booth."
between Haines and the Spitz family came to an abrupt, acrimonious end last
summer when Mark refused to swim for Santa Clara in the National AAUs in
Louisville. Ostensibly, he balked because of fatigue—he had just returned from
a virtuoso performance in the Maccabiah Games. In reality, however, Spitz had
reasons that were more subtle than tired blood. For one, he felt he had
outgrown Haines and the Santa Clara Swim Club. ("When I went back, I was
treated like a baby," Spitz says. "I outgrew being treated the same way
as I had been when I was 14.") For another, his losses in the Olympics had
so embarrassed him—and so deeply frustrated his desire to win—that he resolved
never again to enter a major race without feeling reasonably certain that he
would be first, and this was his major difference, philosophically, with
mainly interested in getting points for the team," says Spitz. "So was
I. But I was interested in Mark Spitz also. I had to be. The whole idea is to
win, not take second. At the Olympics I was tired and I swam too many things.
To do the same thing again at the Nationals, knowing that something would
happen, was crazy."