America's Mark Spitz climbs out of the pool after winning the men's 100m butterfly at the 1972 Olympics

Winning two gold medals at an Olympic Games would be a magnificent achievement for almost any athlete but for American swimmer Mark Spitz, it meant a huge disappointment.

He had set 10 world records going in to the 1968 Olympics and boldly predicted he would win six golds in Mexico.

Spitz only managed a silver and bronze in the 100m and 200m butterfly races respectively, while his two golds came in the 100m and 200m freestyle relays.

Of course what happened four years later is the stuff of legend.

He returned to the Olympics for the Munich Games in 1972 and produced the finest display of swimming ever witnessed.

Seven races, seven gold medals, seven world records.

Here's the list in full: 100m freestyle - 51.22 seconds, 200m freestyle - 1 minute, 52.78, 100m butterfly - 54.27, 200m butterfly 2:00.70, 4x100m freestyle - 3:26.42, 4x200m freestyle relay - 7:35.78 and 4x100m medley - 3:48.16.

Spitz, who is Jewish, was escorted out of Munich after Palestinian terrorists broke into the athletes' village, killing two members of the Israeli team and taking nine others hostage.

He attempted a comeback at the age of 39 for the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.

But his best time of just over 58 seconds, for the 100m butterfly, was three seconds adrift of the qualifying mark, and four seconds slower than his 1972 world record.

In all, Spitz won nine golds, one silver and one bronze and set 33 world records, which is another record in itself.

Two notable swimmers have tried, and failed, to match Spitz's achievement.

Matt Biondi came close at the 1988 Seoul Games - the American won seven medals, but only five were of the gold variety.

And in 2004, Michael Phelps eclipsed Spitz and Biondi by winning eight medals, but seven golds remained elusive as there were two bronzes in the mix.

Phelps will go for eight again in Beijing - will he make it this time?

Peter Scrivener is a BBC Sport Journalist. Our FAQs should answer any questions you have.


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  • 1. At 10:46am on 01 Aug 2008, DrKazza wrote:

    Not to detract from his achievement but doesn't this highlight that the swimming events are too similar? If the only multihaul golds (i.e. more than 4) at any olympics are always swimmers it seems a stretch of the imagination to conclude that the other sports have not had such incredible athletes.

    If the winners of the 100m and the 200m in each style are habitually the same person, doesn't that just mean they're effectively the same event? Time to drop one of them surely?

    At least in athletics the 100m, 200m and 400m winners are usually different athletes, except in some truly incredible cases.

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  • 2. At 10:50am on 01 Aug 2008, demelzapuss wrote:

    Going to the pool before 1972 meant running around, doing bombs, and generally larking around. After Spitz kids wanted to join a club and improve as swimmers.

    On holiday in California a few years ago my family spent a few days using Santa Clara's municipal outdoor pool, now showing its age, but impressively gargantuan in length and depth. There in the lobby, along with all the certificates of swimmers of much lesser achievement, was one accvompahied by a modest black and white photo noting the 1972 achievements of club member M.Spitz.

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  • 3. At 4:02pm on 01 Aug 2008, gruffaloburger wrote:


    "If the winners of the 100m and the 200m in each style are habitually the same person, doesn't that just mean they're effectively the same event? Time to drop one of them surely?"

    Surely the Olympics should 'drop' gymnastics then? And what about cycling? canoe/kayaking or speed skating? In fact why don't they 'drop' all the grass-roots sports and make the Olympics an exclusive 'Professional' sports only event. Then they could have it run every week and call it 'Monday Night Football' or 'Friday Night Hockey'???

    I think you will find (if you bother to do a modicum of research) that the majority of past winners of Olympic swimming events were not multiple winners within the same stroke.

    Spitz WAS that 'truly exceptional case' and Michael Phelps IS a 'truly exceptional' athlete.

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