x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Mark Spitz's defining displays in Munich Games

Best Olympic swimmer No 2 Mark Spitz helped raise the profile of swimming with his heroics at the 1972 Olympics.

Mark Spitz clambers from the pool at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, where he won seven gold medals.
Mark Spitz clambers from the pool at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, where he won seven gold medals.

Imagine how fast he could have gone without the drag of that moustache.

Oddly, though, that moustache might serve as a marker for Mark Spitz, because it tells of an ancient swimming era that preceded the fanatical, hundredths-of-a-second-obsessed shaving of today. It tells, somehow, of a pioneer.

A bit of a let down at Mexico City in 1968 when he won two golds, one silver and one bronze - as if such a collection should ever disappoint - Spitz came to Munich in 1972 at a commotion of an intersection.

By this time, the power of the Olympics had met full-on with the power of television to create national villages in which people beheld and shared the drama.

In that fulcrum, Spitz became the first major swimming television star in the sport's history as his quest toward seven gold medals built across the gathering.

A Californian of 22 with an aloofness that made him feel less than very accessible, he nonetheless captivated an audience as the efficient strokes that spoke of giftedness started yielding medals.

He won the 100 metres freestyle, the 200m freestyle, the 100m butterfly and the 200m butterfly to accrue four individual gold medals, then tacked on three in relays.

The seven stood together unassailed for 36 years, and each of the seven saw a world record.

And it came at a sort of embryonic time, a time in which it seemed so novel and so bursting with medals and records that nobody mentioned he might have gone faster had he only deployed a razor.

cculpepper@thenational.ae


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