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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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Without Spitz, Santa Clara didn't win the national championship for the first time in six years. His sister, Nancy, 16, performed creditably for Santa Clara, but, as her father says, "she isn't quite a female version of Mark." After the Nationals the Spitz family received a letter from Haines—dated the day the meet began—informing them that not only Mark but also Nancy had been kicked off the Santa Clara team.

"I think any coach would have done the same thing," says Haines. "In Mark's case it was a matter of loyalty to his teammates. I'm interested in building a team, not a great personality. I felt if Mark had outgrown the program, what good would it do to coach Nancy?"

"He kicked Nancy in the teeth," says Arnold Spitz. "She cried for three days afterward. It was a very stupid ending to a very wholesome relationship. One thing I'm sure George lost sight of is that Mark is my son, not his. I told him that the biggest thing in Mark's life was not him but me."

"If Arnold Spitz had remained the father," replies Haines, "we might have worked it out."

Early this year the Spitz family sold its home and left Santa Clara—a move once more dictated entirely by swimming. To get Nancy the best coaching, Arnold Spitz has moved his wife and two daughters (Mark's older sister Heidi, 18, swims only for fun) to Sacramento so that Nancy could train under Sherm Chavoor. For himself, Arnold Spitz plans to rent a small apartment in Oakland and drive to Sacramento on weekends.

"It's the least I can do," he says. "Now I have only a couple of years left to do for Nancy what I did for Mark."

Mark's appearance at Indiana last January was awaited with mixed feelings. Says Fred Southwood, co-captain of this year's team: "We thought, 'Uh-oh, this ought to be good. If he can't get along with people he's known all his life, what's he going to do here?' We didn't know quite what to expect."

Before Spitz' arrival, Counsilman called the team together. He asked that Spitz be given the benefit of the doubt, to judge him on his behavior at Indiana and not on his reputation. The swimmers agreed, and apparently that was the only break Spitz needed. He became close friends with his roommate, George Smith, a swimmer from Canada, and he shared at least a peaceful coexistence with his other teammates. Away from the pool, Spitz joined a fraternity, began dating one of the prettiest coeds on campus and maybe even sneaked a beer or two while Counsilman wisely turned his head. "He adjusted very well," says Southwood. "We couldn't understand why he had so much trouble at Santa Clara."

The catalyst was Counsilman. His special treatment of Spitz takes several forms, not all of them readily understandable to an outsider. Every day before practice, for instance, they play a game. Spitz will test the water with his toes, then draw back, complaining that it is too cold. He will stall on the deck until Counsilman takes off his belt and chases him around the pool, through the stands and finally into the water.

Says Counsilman, "Mark, like any champion, likes attention, that extra little show of affection for ego."

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