He won seven gold medals — each of them backed by a world record — in the 1972 Munich Olympics

Mark Spitz stands tall in the pantheon of remarkable achievers in sports. The American swimmer became synonymous with the most superlative efforts in Olympic history, winning seven gold medals — each of them backed by a world record — in the 1972 Munich Olympics.

His feat towered above all other achievements in the Olympics for 36 years till his compatriot Michael Phelps bettered his record winning eight gold medals in the Beijing Olympics in 2008.

Phelps created a host of world records while claiming his eight golds but failed to make each one of them the world’s best. Spitz’s record thus remains safe and is unlikely to be broken soon.

The 1972 Olympics belonged to Spitz, who brightened the Games with his superhuman effort becoming the first athlete to win seven gold medals in the Olympics.

Though Munich brings up sombre images of terrorism, with the massacre of 11 Israeli athletes in the Olympics Village, Spitz, a Jew himself, made the event more memorable with his unparalleled effort.

Born on February 10, 1950 at Modesto, California, Mark Andrew Spitz was initiated into swimming by his father, Arnold, at the age of two when the family moved to Hawaii.

By the time he was 18, Spitz had 10 world records to his name.

He raked up controversy when he proclaimed he would win six gold medals in his first Olympic appearance at Mexico City in 1968.

He failed and returned with just two team golds (4x100 and 4x200 freestyle relays) and two individual medals — a silver and a bronze in the 100m butterfly and 100m freestyle.

More determined

Spitz became more determined after the ‘failure’ and entered Indiana University to train under legendary coach Doc Counsilman.

While preparing for Munich, Spitz continued to accumulate awards and was named the World Swimmer of the Year in 1969, 1971 and 1972.

In Munich he began the gold haul by winning his pet event — the butterfly. He won the 200m butterfly (2:00.7s) and showed equal felicity in winning the 200m freestyle (1:52.78s) with a world record backing each of them.

Spitz did even better in the shorter stretches and picked up golds in the 100m butterfly (54.27s) and 100m freestyle (51.22s).

Having wrapped up triumphs in all the individual events, Spitz picked up three team golds in 4x100m freestyle (3:26.42), 4x200m freestyle (7:35.78) and the 4x100m medley (3:48.16). Spitz announced his retirement in the same year at the height of glory.

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