"swimming Isn't Everything"
As soon as he began walking, Mark Spitz began to swim. At age two, his parents, Lenore and Arnold Spitz, moved to Honolulu, Hawaii, where Arnold Spitz, an executive with a steel company, had been transferred. He swam daily at Waikiki Beach. "You should have seen that little boy dash into the ocean," his mother later told a Time magazine reporter.
Soon, with strong encouragement from his family, Spitz was swimming competitively. Having returned to his native California at age six, he began his formal training at the Sacramento YMCA. Three years later, Arnold Spitz took his precocious son to the Arden Hills Swim Club to train with Sherm Chavoor, who would remain
a mentor for many years. By age ten, Spitz had won 17 age-group events. That year, Spitz had a scheduling problem when his after-school swim workout conflicted with Hebrew school. His father intervened and told the rabbi, "Even God likes a winner." The family relocated to Santa Clara so that, despite an 80-mile commute for his father, Spitz could train with the celebrated George Haines at the Santa Clara Swim Club. "Swimming isn't everything," his father used to tell his son, "winning is." In 1965, the teenager entered his first international competition at the Olympic-style Maccabiah Games in Tel Aviv and won four gold medals. (Upon his return four years later, he won six more golds.)
In 1966, the high school student won the national Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) championships with the 100-meter butterfly. By age 17, Spitz broke his first world record with a time of 4 minutes, 10.6 seconds in the 400-meter freestyle. Full of confidence, Spitz qualified for the 1968 Summer Olympic Games in Mexico City and boasted he would win six medals. He faced bitter disappointment. Not only was he a target of anti-Semitism from some team members, he also failed to meet his own expectations. He won only two golds, both in relay events, though he did take the silver in the 100-meter butterfly and the bronze in the 100-meter freestyle. It was, he told a journalist, "the worst meet of my life." While many athletes would have reveled in medaling at all, for Spitz the event was a disaster. There was little the 18-year-old could do but to brace himself for a comeback, or quit.
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