The Olympic legend, the escape from Munich, the meetings at the White House, the records beaten by Phelps. “I have seen my medals three times in 50 years I remember the attack on the Olympic village”
The shark has lost its whiskers, certainly not the vice of exerting a charisma that has lasted since the Smith & Carlos Gloved Games, and that passes straight like a blade through the Zoom link from California. “I’m not going to Tokyo, with the pandemic it’s too complicated: but from tomorrow I’ll stick to the TV “he guarantees Mark Spitz, 71 years old (already?), nine golds, one silver and one bronze in two editions of the Games, ’68 (4 medals) and ’72 (7 gold, record until the advent of Phelps), the most stellar productivity in the aquatic kingdom and beyond, now Ambassador Arena.
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Mark is it right that these complicated Games start?
«Yes, the NBA bubble was impenetrable, the Tokyo bubble will also work and in any case nothing changes for TV: a guaranteed show. I’m sure the Olympics will be a success ».
Even behind closed doors?
«I can’t imagine an Olympic final without an audience. Poor athletes: the Super Bowl is every year but the next Games will be in 2024 … “
How would you have reacted in the pneumatic vacuum?
“I was so focused that I didn’t notice anything. And then in the water you feel little, swimming is not athletics. Of course, starting from the blocks in an icy silence must be absurd ».
Federica Pellegrini at the fifth Olympics aims for the podium at 33: is longevity a talent, in your opinion?
“Wow, crazy! Years are not an obstacle for inspiration and talent: I will follow it with curiosity ».
Here in Tokyo there is also Novella Calligaris, Mark, a silver and two bronzes in Munich, in his Games.
“Between the medals and the terrorist attack, Munich was an incredible experience, able to bind those who participated for life. We were very close with Novella, we haven’t seen each other for a while: can you say hello to me a lot, please? ».
Gladly. Spitz, explain to us: how can you win 9 golds in just two Olympics?
«I was strong! Seriously, I believe in destiny and I think it was part of my story. The first world record, in the 400 style, I did at 17. At 22 I had already retired. It had just been 5 years. I am convinced that my greatest talent was efficiency rather than medals. In my career I have participated in 75 races, making 35 world records: about half of the times I have entered the water, that is, I have beaten a record. I wanted to win! ».
Who instigated her killer instinct?
“My father Arnold. I don’t know if dad ever seriously said the phrase passed to the legend (“Swimming is nothing, winning is everything”) but his was a winning philosophy. My skill, perhaps, was accepting responsibility for success. An interesting theme ».
Let’s talk about.
«36 years have passed from my seven gold medals in Munich ’72 to Michael Phelps’ 8 in Beijing 2008. Everyone thinks I was very upset about it, that’s not true. I’ve known Michael forever, I expected it. The truth is, I only realized what I did when the record was taken from me. And finally that hateful comparison for any American swimmer is over: you are nobody if you don’t win at least 7 golds as a Spitz ».
Where do you keep the medals?
“At the bank. From Munich I have reviewed them three times: when a French newspaper asked me to photograph them and when my children turned seven. I photographed them among the trophies, a habit of mine ».
He was in Mexico City, he was in Munich. He never missed an appointment with history.
“Carlos and Smith have been friends ever since, we talk often. On September 5, 1972, in Munich, I competed. I’m in a press conference, they tell me: did you hear what happened? They armored the village, as an American Jewish athlete they escorted me to a safe place. I flew to London. From there I learned of the dead athletes and the Palestinians of the fleeing commando ».
How much did the drama weigh on his decision to retire from swimming soon after?
“I would have stopped anyway.”
No one tried to dissuade her?
“No. I was invited to the White House by Gerald Ford, in the meantime the Watergate had been there and Nixon had resigned. They told me that the new administration found in the oval office a forgotten memo, handwritten by the former president, which said: Is Spitz a Republican? I’m not, but I became very good friends with Ronald Reagan ».
Other unforgettable encounters?
“It’s 1983, I’m taking a trip to Israel. On the way back, I stop in Rome. I have good friendships and they book me an audience with John Paul II in the Vatican. But I’m expected in Frankfurt for a TV show, I’m the guest star, I can’t miss it. I leave and do not meet the Pope: the greatest regret of my existence! I made up for it by knowing Joseph Ratzinger, even if six months before the conclave that changed his life. Boris Becker was there too ».
The Olympics begins, new medals, faces and records will write the history of swimming and sport. How would Mister Spitz like to be remembered in a hundred years?
“Like an athlete with a mustache who did what he liked: swimming. My medals are my testament ».
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July 22, 2021 (change July 22, 2021 | 11:32)
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