Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Mark Spitz: Going For Gold

This Day In Boomer History
February 10, 1950
Olympian Mark Spitz born in Modesto, California

Think back, way back, to the days before Michael Phelps reminded us that fish can fly. Back in the 60's and 70's, we boomers had our own pool shark - Mark "The Shark" Spitz, who celebrates his 59th birthday today.

I don't really remember the first time Spitz appeared in the Olympic games, the Mexico City games of 1968. Legend has it that Spitz, then a world record holder in both butterfly and freestyle, bragged that he'd bring home five gold medals. But Spitz learned quickly what all braggers do - you better be able to back your words. In Mexico City, he only won two medals - and both were relays. From that point on, Spitz did most of his talking in the pool - well, at least until 1972, when he took home a record-setting seven gold medals from the Munich Olympics.

I was a swimmer as a child - it's still the only sport where I can beat my husband - so I was vested in Spitz's award winning swims. I remember the swim team swelling that year as Mark Spitz wanna-bees joined to try their luck at butterfly, breast stroke and freestyle.

But, of course, what I remember most about the 1972 Olympics is the
tragic way things ended. Eleven members of the Israeli Olympic team were taken hostage and eventually murdered by a militant group called Black September. I remember being shocked by the violence that took place on that international stage of peace, patriotism and good-natured competition. I was just a kid, of course, but I remember waking up before dawn to watch the memorial services live from West Germany. The world became scarier that September. I blinked back tears as I watched the athletes at the memorial, so somber, in such contrast to the joy I witnessed while watching the Opening Ceremonies just a week before.

An interesting side note: Mark Spitz was not among those athletes. Spitz, a Jew, had returned to the states during the hostage crisis, as officials feared he may be a target of the terrorists.

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