The story of Mark
Spitz was the unhappiest one of the 1968 Olympics. He came to Mexico City
ballyhooed as' swimming's new glamour boy—a child of 18 whose good looks and
extraordinary ability were flawed only by his reputation as a spoiled brat. It
was predicted that Spitz would win an unprecedented six gold medals. He didn't
come close. Not only did he fail to win an individual race, he finished last in
the 200-meter butterfly, an event in which he holds the world record. Few felt
sorry for Spitz. In fact, a number of his teammates rejoiced at his
Now Spitz is 20
and once more acclaimed as the world's finest swimmer. At Indiana, where he is
a pre-dental student, he is again turning in times of the sort that enabled him
to set or tie 12 individual world records, of which four still stand. Moreover,
Spitz has grown up. He is no longer a pain in the neck.
This change began
to occur in January 1969, when Spitz left his home in Santa Clara, Calif. to
enroll at Indiana. After groundwork by Coach James E. (Doc) Counsilman, the
Indiana swimmers accepted him, and he responded by winning three individual
events—two in American record time—to lead the Hoosiers to their second
straight NCAA championship. "That was like a comeback for me," says
Spitz. "People knew that I wasn't living in the past. They knew that I was
living right now."
In addition he
found a father figure in Counsilman. Until coming to Indiana, Spitz' life had
been dictated by a pair of intense, strong-willed men: his father, Arnold, who
taught him to win, and his coach at Santa Clara, George Haines, who taught him
to swim. As Spitz grew closer to Indiana and Counsilman, he grew away from his
old self—and his old ties—in California.
really hasn't helped me that much with my strokes," says Spitz, "but
then I think when you become a champion you become a free thinker and you
really don't need a coach in a sense. What Doc has done for me is to make me
more friendly. I think I've really grown up in that way. I wasn't friendly
before because I was told I was dumb and stupid, so I began putting on, saying,
'Oh, look at me, I'm something.' I got tabbed as being young and cocky when I
was 14 and beating guys 19, but I don't think it was hatred, just
had a soft spot in my heart for Mark because he's gotten a raw deal," says
Counsilman. "When he came to me his self-image was pretty low, and I felt
he didn't have a true picture of himself. He felt very competent athletically,
but he didn't think he was very smart because some people had told him he
wasn't—and he didn't feel competent socially. Here, though, everybody likes
him, and he's gained confidence intellectually and socially."
Mark Spitz' normal
childhood ended at 8½, when his father enrolled him in a swimming program at
the Sacramento YMCA. When he was 9 he worked out an hour or an hour and 15
minutes every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, with double workouts on Saturday.
At 10, he worked out every day for an hour and a half.
"It was a big
party then," Spitz recalls. "Man, you were in competition. That was the
living end. It was something to be playing a little touch football on the lawn
and tell your friends what you did at workout that day. When you're small you
don't know anything."
As Spitz began
beating older boys the force behind him was his father. The elder Spitz might
have been a good swimmer himself ("He has a nice technique," says Mark)
but he never had the time, coming up the hard way. Although he did not graduate
from college, Arnold Spitz got by—and eventually succeeded—by being tough and
aggressive, both mentally and physically. Now he is the well-paid operations
manager for Schnitzer Steel Products in Oakland, a large scrap-metal firm that
specializes in grinding up cars and squeezing them into neat little blocks.
"In business," says Arnold Spitz proudly, "I'm known as a forceful
When Mark was 9
his father (Mark calls him "my father," not "dad") took him to
the Arden Hills Swim Club near Sacramento, where he could learn under the
celebrated Sherm Chavoor. Even this early Arnold Spitz was drilling into his
son the importance—the necessity—of not just swimming but winning.