Not So Trivial Pursuits

Updated: Aug 29, 2019

Mark Spitz swimming the 100 Meter Butterfly at the 1972 Olympics in Munich

Before Michael Phelps, there was Mark Spitz. In the 1972 Summer Olympic Games in Munich, Mark Spitz swam in seven events and won seven gold medals, but how many world records did he set in the process of winning these gold medals?

Mark Spitz posing with his seven gold medals each earned with a world record

In each of his seven Olympic Gold Medal performances at the 1972 Munich Games, Mark Spitz set a new world record for a total of seven world records. The picture above is from a poster of Spitz posing with his seven gold medals. The poster sold over a million copies and became one of the most popular posters of all time.

At the age of 17, Spitz set his first world record in the 400-meter freestyle. That same year, at the 1967 Pan-Am Games, Spitz won five gold medals, setting a record that stood for 40 years, until Brazilian swimmer Thiago Pereira won six golds in 2007.

At the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City, Spitz didn’t perform how he wanted. He entered the competition as the owner of 10 world records, and boasted that he believed he would win six golds at those games. He wound up winning gold in the 4×100 and 4×200 meter free style relays, but only managed a silver in the 100-meter butterfly and a bronze in the 100 freestyle.

After the bitter disappointment of the 1968 games, Spitz was determined to improve. He opted to attend Indiana University so he could train under Head Coach Doc Counsilman, who had been the Olympic coach in Mexico City. Counsilman and Indiana were in the midst of an unbelievable streak of six consecutive national titles (1968-1973). Spitz didn’t regret the move to the Midwest, as Counsilman’s training helped him win eight individual NCAA Titles and the 1971 James E. Sullivan Award as the nation’s top amateur athlete.

Spitz's Olympic teammates carry him around the pool after he wins his seventh Gold Medal in seven events.

A more mature Spitz showed up for the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich focused and ready to dominate. He did just that. The 22-year-old won seven gold medals, setting world records in each event. He won the 100 and 200 butterfly, the 100 and 200 freestyle, the 4×100 and 4×200 freestyle relays and the 4×100 medley relay.

Mark Spitz praises Michael Phelps as the greatest Olympic athlete of all time.

Although many thought that Spitz's feat of seven gold medals and seven world records in a single Olympics would never be equalled, let alone broken, 36 years later, at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, Michael Phelps won eight gold medals and set seven world records and one Olympic record. Spitz graciously conceded that Phelps is not only the greatest Olympic swimmer of all time, but the greatest Olympic athlete of all time.

If you would like to watch his amazing performance at the 1972 Munich Games, below is a two part documentary covering the life of Mark Spitz and his swimming career.

Olympics - 1972 Munich - Mens Swimming - USA Mark Spitz - Part 1 imasportsphile

Olympics - 1972 Munich - Mens Swimming - USA Mark Spitz - Part 2 imasportsphile