Mark Spitz enjoyed one of the greatest stretches in Olympic history at the Munich 1972 Olympic Games, winning seven gold medals in eight days, setting a world record in each of the four individual and three relay races that he entered.
At a time when swimmers shaved all of their body hair in attempt to make their bodies smoother in order to swim faster, Spitz sported a fabulous moustache and explained that having facial hair was his way of rebelling against a former swim coach.
Noticing that most of the finals in the Munich 1972 Olympic Games were scheduled for the early evening, Spitz asked the Russian team if he could get in the pool at that time, which was during the Russians allotted training session. The Russians gave Spitz a lane, but he noticed that the Russian coaches had left the pool deck to view him through some underwater windows.
“So I did a really stupid-looking stroke when I got to the end of the pool – to throw them off guard, get them off the scent,” Spitz said. “When I got out they came up, unabashed with their cameras, and the coach who spoke English said, ‘My colleagues have never seen you swim in person; they want to know, do you always swim with that particular stroke?’ And I said, ‘Oh yes I do.’ ”
In the warmup room before races, Spitz took to complaining about his back and shoulders to make it seem like he might be vulnerable. Then, prior to his sixth race – the 100-meter freestyle – Spitz acted as though he might not participate for fear of risking his streak of gold medals.
“I was always going for it,” Spitz said. “It was a bunch of nonsense to be honest.”
Spitz set another world record, winning by nearly half a second.
It was a memorable time, especially considering that four years prior – the Mexico City 1968 Olympic Games – Spitz had predicted he might win as many as six gold medals. He came home with two relay golds, a silver and a bronze – still a significant haul but hardly what Mark the Shark had hoped for. His second Olympic run proved much more fruitful.
At age 22, Spitz retired from competition after the Munich 1972 Olympic Games.