Mark Spitz: Seven Ways to Survive the Olympics


Spitz, now 71, held the record for seven gold medals in a single Games when he dominated the pool in Munich in 1972, a tally that was surpassed by Michael Phelps in 2008.

This was after Spitz backed each other up to win six gold medals in Mexico City in 1968, to win two, both in relays – a disappointment that he said motivated him to achieve his record-breaking feat four more years. late.

Here, the former swimmer from the United States describes the lessons he learned during his Olympic career.

1. Be prepared, be motivated and be lucky

Many people who go to the Olympics have trained their entire lives to do so. I calculated once that in the 13 or 14 years of my career to Munich, I had swam about 26,000 miles – enough to circle the equator, the whole of this planet.

But then 200,000 other athletes who were swimmers at the time did the same. So, what made me stand out? Maybe it was a bit of luck. Maybe that was the program I was in. Maybe it was my ‘failure’ in 1968 that motivated me to do better.

Australia's Michael Wenden claimed victory in the 100m freestyle at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City.  Spitz, in lane seven, was third.

2. Life in the Olympic Village

I think the village is fantastic, but a lot of great athletes don’t even stay there.

After competing, they might come back to the village once they get the gold medal.

3. Beware of distractions

There is a great atmosphere in the village, good for forming friendships. But you are all there to do a job.

Sometimes I felt like the village was not for me, it could be very distracting. It was certainly 1968, when the swimming events were held in the second week. I was young and lost some of my focus, got involved in pin-swapping and all other activities.

It’s different now, however. Athletes are trained to stay sharp regardless of the time of their competition.

Spitz competed in the butterly at the 1972 Summer Olympics.

4. If at first you don’t succeed …

I often think of Doug Russell in 1968. He swam slower than my world record in the 100m butterfly but still won gold; I only have money. But his victory meant he got to swim in the medley relay, not me. So my money potentially cost me two gold.

In my last event, the 200m butterfly, I could have slowed my personal best by two seconds and won the gold medal, but I was eight seconds slower and finished dead last. The 200 ‘fly turned out to be my first race in Munich and I made sure it never happened again.

They called me a failure and it hit me. So, a bad experience can inspire someone to become very successful.

Spitz competed in the 1982 World Swimming Championships.

5. A little steering mistake doesn’t hurt …

My Russian rivals in Munich had never seen me swim in person and they were kind enough to give me a lane during one of their workouts.

I knew they were taking pictures of me so I started doing a silly shot that had nothing to do with anything. They asked me if I always swim like this and I said “yeah”.

Then they asked me if my mustache was slowing me down. I had planned to shave it that night, but found myself saying that it actually took the water out of my mouth and I could lower my face a lot and streamline my body. It probably slowed me down by a few hundredths of a second, but I was winning in seconds, so it didn’t matter.

Anyway, after that, I decided to keep the mustache and it ended up being an interesting hallmark!

Sptiz receives his gold medal in the 200m butterfly in Munich.

6. Be realistic

About 10,000 athletes go to the Summer Games and there are about 250 events.

If you include all team sports, approximately 1,000 medals will be awarded. This therefore means that only 10% of competing athletes will “succeed”.

For many, getting to the Games is a feat, but it’s really only around 15% who are looking for the gear. There are going to be a lot of disappointments.

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7. If you’re on the podium, make the most of the moment …

Take it all because it will never happen again; At no other time in your life will someone put you on a podium like this and they will not play your national anthem.

Later in life, your success will not be measured in the same way because there will always be someone who will get a better deal, a bigger deal, a bigger acquisition with more money.

So if you are lucky enough to be one of those people, it will only last for a moment and then everyone will move on. You have to learn to live with it.

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