American swimming legend Mark Spitz poses with the new Sports Illustrated Magazine featuring Olympic champion swimmer Michael Phelps on the cover at the Hyatt Resorts “Vacation Training Camp” competition August 20, 2008 at Grand Central Station in New York City. (Photo by Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images for Catalyst Public Relations)
By Alex Dobuzinskis
LOS ANGELES, June 24 (Reuters) – Mark Spitz’s advice to Michael Phelps ahead of the London Olympics would be that, when you have already won more gold medals at a single Games than any swimmer in history, less could turn out to be more.
Phelps, 27 this month, beat Spitz’s 1972 record of seven gold medals four years ago at the Beijing Games and will compete in the U.S. Olympic trials beginning on Monday in Omaha, Nebraska.
He has signed up for seven individual events, which combined with the three relays he is likely to join at the London Games could potentially see him strive for a stunning 10 gold medals this summer.
It remains to be seen exactly how many events he will swim in London, but Spitz said that – put in his place – he would want to “go out a winner’ rather than collecting silver and bronze medals.
That would be by limiting his efforts to those events in which he is strongest and swim six in total including the relays.
“I would rather go in and swim six events and get six gold medals than a couple of seconds and thirds. It doesn’t really matter to him I would imagine,” the 62-year-old Spitz told Reuters over coffee at a Los Angeles deli.
“It wouldn’t matter to me, so I’m only projecting my thoughts.”
In the lead-up to Beijing four years ago, much of the hype and discussion around the Games focused on whether Phelps would beat the record set by Spitz at the 1972 Munich Games.
When he did, Phelps appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated magazine with his eight gold medals hanging over his bare chest, in an image reminiscent of an iconic shot from the 1970s of a mustachioed Spitz with his seven golds.
Phelps’ compatriot Ryan Lochte, 27, has become one of the most high profile swimmers and is expected to give Phelps tough competition at the U.S. Olympic trials and in London this summer.
Spitz, who also competed at the Mexico City Games in 1968, retired from swimming after Munich at the age of 22, after winning a career total of nine gold medals, one silver and one bronze.
He later appeared in an episode of the 1970s medical drama “Emergency!”, but his career as an actor was eclipsed by the greater success he found as a celebrity endorser for a wide variety of products, from razors to milk.
At one time, he also worked as a stock broker.
The Californian said his famous competitive streak started very early in his life.
At age nine, after a swimming competition at summer camp, he was lined up next to a staircase and made to stand in a circle with — as Spitz recalls it — the number five on it. At the top of the staircase, in first place, was a boy who was given a blue ribbon. Spitz was handed a purple ribbon for fifth place.
“So I came back with this ribbon, really upset and I handed my mother the purple ribbon,” Spitz said.
“I established at that moment that my favorite color was blue, and to this day you’ll never see me wear anything that has to do with purple.”