Spitz, Mark : Jews In Sports @ Virtual Museum

Spitz, Mark


Country Represented:
United States

Years Competed:
1968, 1972

Medals Received:
gold, silver, bronze

Olympic Info:
At the 1972 Munich Games, Spitz became arguably the greatest swimmer in history by accomplishing an unprecedented feat: he won seven gold medals, setting a world record in each event he entered. Mark won the 100-meter freestyle (51.22), 200-meter freestyle (1:52.78), 100-meter butterfly (54.27), and the 200-meter butterfly (2:00.70). He was also part of the winning 4x100-meter freestyle (3:26.42), 4x200-meter freestyle (7:35.78), and 4x100-meter medley (3:48.16). Four years earlier, at the 1968 Olympics, Spitz won four medals: golds in the 4x100-meter (3:31.7) and 4x200-meter (7:52.3), a silver in the 100-meter butterfly (56.4), and a bronze in the 100-meter freestyle (53.0).

The 1972 Olympics were held in Munich, and when the tragic massacre of 11 Israeli athletes by Palestinian terrorists stunned the world, Mark was put under a special security guard and whisked out of Munich. After his unprecedented Olympic triumph, he retired from competitive swimming, having accomplished everything he could possibly achieve in his sport.

Career Highlights:
Considered by many to be the greatest swimmer in history, Spitz had enormous expectations surrounding his entry into the 1972 Games. He began to swim at the age of two, when his family moved to Hawaii. When they returned to his native California four years later, Mark received his first competitive training at the Sacramento YMCA. To say he excelled would be an understatement: by the time he was 10 years old, he held 17 national age-group and one world record and was being told by his father Arnold that "Swimming isn't everything; winning is." When Spitz was 14, his family moved to Santa Clara so that Mark could train at the famed Santa Clara Swim Club, despite the fact that such retrenching gave Arnold Spitz an 80-mile commute to work each day.

In 1966, Spitz began his remarkable competitive career, winning the 100-meter butterfly at the National AAU Championships. Although it was his first major win, it was not his last, and between 1965 and 1972, he won five Pan American gold medals, 31 AAU titles, 8 NCAA championships, and set 33 world records. His first international competition was at the 1965 Maccabiah Games, and he returned to Israel for the 1969 Games. All told, Spitz won 10 Maccabiah gold medals. He was voted "World Swimmer of the Year" in 1967, 1971, and 1972. In 1971, he became the first Jewish recipient of the James E. Sullivan Award, given annually to the Amateur Athlete of the Year.

Spitz, who was also a pre-dental student in the early 1970s, retired following the 1972 Games. The handsome, mustachioed athlete was then bombarded with endorsement deals, and, opting to shelve dentistry to promote such products as Schick and Speedo, made an estimated $7 million in two years. After starting a successful real estate company, Mark made a comeback in the late 1980s and trained for the 1992 U.S. Olympic Trials. At the age of 39, he could not compete with the younger and stronger swimmers, but he remains today, one of the greatest Olympic competitors in history. He is a member of the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.

Birth and Death Dates:
b. Feb. 10, 1950

Modesto, California

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Also, read a chapter from The Jew in American Sports by Harold U. Ribalow and Meir Z. Ribalow
Jewish Sports Legends: The International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame, by Joseph Siegman (Washington, D.C.: Brassey's, 2000)