When the ‘Stache Ruled the Pool

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VACA5By Ken Zurski

In August of 1972, at the Summer Olympics in Munich, West Germany, American swimmer Mark Spitz did what no other Olympian had ever done up to that point, win more consecutive gold medals in a single games. In this case, it was a golden seven.

It could have been only six.

Spitz was satisfied with his unprecedented six-for-six gold medal streak and considered bowing out of his last scheduled race, the 100m freestyle, after being edged by rival and current world record holder in the event Michael Wenden of Australia in both the prelims and the semis. Sptiz thought a loss would tarnish his previous accomplishments. But his coach convinced him that since the 100m was the premier swimming event of the games, Wenden would be crowned the fastest swimmer in the world. Spitz raced, won, and beat Wenden’s world record by nearly a second.

Sptiz amount of gold won at a single games was broken by Michael Phelps at the Beijing Games in 2008. But Phelps, who won 8 gold medals, failed to break a world record in one event, giving Spitz a lasting distinction of besting the world record in every event he entered.

VACA2Spitz also became an American celebrity and one of the first Olympians to profit off his success with major product endorsements from swim trunk maker Speedo and razor king, Schick. The latter thanks to that famous mustache, Spitz’s trademark.

Spitz who grew up in Honolulu Hawaii and became a competitive swimmer at an early age, says he sported the mustache in college on a bet from a coach that he couldn’t grow one.

After the games, which were marred internationally by the Israeli hostage tragedy, the poster of Spitz sporting his mustache and seven gold medals around his neck became a best seller.

The ‘stache, however, was a source of curiosity and contention for other competitors.

Even the coach of the Russian team went so far as to ask Spitz if he thought his facial hair slowed him down. Spitz told him it actually streamlined water around his mouth, making him swim faster.  Something swimmers today certainly don’t concur.

And in hindsight, a strange question to ask since Spitz along with the other swimmers of his era didn’t wear caps on their heads.

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