Swimming: The deadpan gold-digger

The anniversary: 26 years ago, Mark Spitz collected his seventh Olympic gold in eight days - and yawned

WHEN Mark Spitz won two Olympic swimming gold medals and a bronze at the 1968 Games in Mexico City he considered himself a failure. Never one to underestimate his own ability, the man from Modesto, California, had predicted that he would win six golds. Undeterred, four years later he went to Munich insisting that he would win seven. Sure enough, on 4 September 1972, he collected his seventh.

Spitz immediately went into Olympic history among the greatest sportsmen of all time. No one had ever won as many events in one Games. Only one previous Olympic competitor, a turn of the century athlete called Ray Ewry, had bettered his full total of nine golds, and no one in the history of standardised swimming pools achieved as many world records - 26. The previous highest total of Olympic swimming golds was the four achieved by another American, Don Schollander, in Tokyo in 1964.

Schollander and Spitz were intense rivals. Up until Munich Schollander, who was four years older, was able to keep the challenge of the unpredictable and temperamental Spitz at bay. That unpredictability was never more obvious than in the 1970 United States outdoor championships in which, in a heat, Spitz became the first man to break 52sec for the 100m freestyle but took only second place in the final. He then broke his own 200m butterfly world record, also in a heat, but came fourth in the final.

His coach, Sherman Chavoor, said Spitz's nervousness in competition, which was at such odds with his confident predictions, could have been put down to a belief that he was the subject of anti-Semitism within the American teams. But in the late summer of 1972, and with something of a strange irony, Spitz overcame any such feelings of personal pressure, even though the Games were disfigured by the killing by Arab terrorists of 11 members of the Israeli team.

Twenty-two years old at the time, dark-haired and with a black moustache, this dental student was the glamour boy of the Olympic pool. His seven golds came in only eight days and consisted of four individual and three relays. Every event was won in a world record time. Only his team-mate Jerry Heidenreich got anywhere near him, losing by four tenths of a second in the 100m free-style. Even so, the distance separating them was over an arm's length.

His first gold came in the 200m butterfly and sent a message that he was in the form of his life. He beat his fellow American Gary Hall following an incredible start, which I described at the time as being an "interception of the starter's thoughts".The butterfly was his speciality. He had set world records in the heats and finals of the American trials, so when he made that astonishing opening to the first day of swimming in Munich he was intent not only on winning but taking the world record to below two minutes. That was the only ambition he failed to achieve, though only by the length of his hand.

His winning margin over a Canadian, Bruce Robertson, in the 100m butterfly final was 1.3sec (or about a body length). There had been much interest in seeing the great East German backstroke champion, Roland Matthes, experiment with a different stroke, but he slipped on his blocks, lost almost a metre and never got near Spitz who a mere 40 minutes later assisted the Americans to win the 4 x 200m freestyle relay.

By then he was at the centre of controversy, having waved a pair of brand- named trainers over his head as he collected one of his medals. He was called before the International Olympic Committee who gave him nothing more than a gentle warning.

His almost casual freestyle wins at 100m and 200m were forgone conclusions, although in the longer race his compatriot Steve Genter led going into the final length. Spitz powerfully thrust past, also leaving the Russian Vladimir Bure trailing. It was a measure of Spitz's superiority that Bure still broke the European record.

In the 4 x 100m medley he had to pull back on the substantial lead Matthes had given to the East Germans. His butterfly leg began with no advantage and finished with a two- metre lead. His only reaction as he stood on the rostrum with his seventh gold medal was a yawn.

One of his team-mates said: "You can't really like the guy, he doesn't let you. He's lost contact with real people - a product of a system with no room for personality." An American journalist asked Spitz: "How do you stay so cool?" His typically laconic reply was: "Because I spend so much time in the water, I guess."

Sport
Laura Trott with her gold
Commonwealth GamesJust 48 hours earlier cyclist was under the care of a doctor
Life and Style
Upright, everything’s all right (to a point): remaining on one’s feet has its health benefits – though in moderation
HealthIf sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode
arts + ents
News
Orville and Keith Harris. He covered up his condition by getting people to read out scripts to him
People
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
France striker Loic Remy
sportThe QPR striker flew to Boston earlier in the week to complete deal
Arts and Entertainment
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman
arts + entsFilmmaker posted a picture of Israeli actress Gal Gadot on Twitter
Sport
Vincenzo Nibali rides into Paris on the final stage of the 2014 Tour de France
Tour de FranceVincenzo Nibali is first Italian winner since Marco Pantani in 1998
News
Bryan had a bracelet given to him by his late father stolen during the raid
people
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Pratt stars in Guardians of the Galaxy
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Pedro Pascal gives a weird look at the camera in the blooper reel
arts + entsPrince Oberyn nearly sets himself on fire with a flaming torch
News
Danny Nickerson, 6, has received 15,000 cards and presents from well-wishers around the world
newsDanny loves to see his name on paper, so his mother put out a request for cards - it went viral
Arts and Entertainment
Zoe Saldana stars in this summer's big hope Guardians of the Galaxy
filmHollywood's summer blockbusters are no longer money-spinners
Sport
Red Bull Racing's Australian driver Daniel Ricciardo (C) celebrates with Scuderia Ferrari's Spanish driver Fernando Alonso (L) and Mercedes' British driver Lewis Hamilton
sport
Arts and Entertainment
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Public vote: Art Everywhere poster in a bus shelter featuring John Hoyland
art
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmComedy was dominated by the romcom at its most insufferable
Sport
Tour de France competitor Bartosz Huzarski’s legs have highlighted the gruelling nature of the race, after he posted a picture on Facebook showing extremely prominent veins stretching from his feet and all the way up his legs
Commonwealth Games
Life and Style
Elle Kaye demonstrates the art of taxidermy
food + drinkFood revolution taken a step further in new ‘edible taxidermy’ class
News
A rub on the tummy sprang Casey back to life
video
Sport
Halsall broke her personal best in the 50m butterfly
Commonwealth GamesEnglish swimmer is reborn after disastrous time at London 2012
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Life and Style
Workers in Seattle are paid 100 times as much as workers in Bangladesh
fashionSeattle company lets customers create their own clothes, then click 'buy' and wait for delivery
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Voices
The Express offices in the 1930s when writers (such as Orwell) were paid around £2 weekly
voicesWebsites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
A cut above: Katy Guest at The Ginger Pig
food + drinkThe Ginger Pig's hands-on approach to primary cuts
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Data Analyst

£30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly reputable software house is looking ...

Application Support Analyst / Junior SQL Server DBA

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established professional services...

Commercial Litigation

Highly Attractive Salary: Austen Lloyd: CITY - SENIOR COMMERCIAL LITIGATION SO...

BI Developer - Sheffield - £35,000 ~ £40,000 DOE

£35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client is...

Day In a Page

A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried