August 17, 2008
Mark Spitz: Michael Phelps is the greatest Olympic athlete ever
Former record-holder gracious as Phelps grabs the glory; Lezak, Torres score again
His hair is gray, the 70s mustache is history, he’s taking medication to control his cholesterol, and depending when you ask, iconic Jewish Olympian Mark Spitz is really pleased with the way the U.S. Olympics swimming team has fared this Summer.
Spitz on Phelps according to Wikipedia:
Spitz told AFP he felt snubbed about not being asked to attend the 2008 Olympics to watch Michael Phelps attempt to break his record of seven gold medals.
“I never got invited. You don’t go to the Olympics just to say, I am going to go. Especially because of who I am….I am going to sit there and watch Michael Phelps break my record anonymously? That’s almost demeaning to me. It is not almost—it is.”
Spitz also says he could have won eight gold medals if given the chance. “I won seven events. If they had the 50m freestyle back then, which they do now, I probably would have won that too,” he said. And Spitz thinks Phelps will succeed, “he’s almost identical to me. He’s a world-record holder in all these events, so he is dominating the events just like I did,” Spitz said. “He reminds me of myself.”
Other than to pose for an odd picture with Phelps, Spitz does not have much interaction with the superstar. “He’s not sitting down with me asking for advice,” he said.
“They voted me one of the top five Olympians in all time. Some of them are dead. But they invited the other ones to go to the Olympics, but not me,” he said. “Yes, I am a bit upset about it.”
On August 14, Spitz appeared on NBC’s Today Show where he clarified his statement and his pride in Michael Phelps:
It’s about time that somebody else takes the throne. And I’m very happy for him. I really, truly am…I was working with a corporate sponsor who elected not to bring their US contingent over to China, and they piled on more work for me here in the United States, which was great. So I wasn’t able to get to the Olympics and watch Michael in the first couple of days. And they thought, some of these reporters, that I was supposed to be invited by some entity, and I told them that that wasn’t really the case, that doesn’t happen that way. And so, I’m sort of disappointed that I wasn’t there, but, you know, that interview somehow took a different turn, and I’ve done hundreds and hundreds of them and I’ve been true to form about the way I feel about Michael, and he’s doing a great job for the United States and inspiring a lot of great performances by the other team members.
Also on August 14, 2008, in an interview aired on Los Angeles KNBC-4’s morning news show, Today in L.A., Spitz was quoted saying he does believe that, “Michael Phelps is the greatest Olympic athlete ever.”
On August 15, 2008, as part of an interview on NBC, Spitz said that he felt Phelps’ performance in the 100 fly in Beijing was “epic”. Spitz paid this compliment to Phelps just two hours after his record-tying seventh gold medal during a live joint interview with Bob Costas:
You know, Bob and Michael, I wondered what I was going to say at this monumental time, when it would happen and who I would say it to, and of course I thought I was going to say it to you for some time now. But, it’s the word that comes to mind, “epic”. What you did tonight was epic, and it was epic for the whole world to see how great you really are. I never thought for one moment that you were out of that race and contention, because I watched you at Athens win the race by similar margins, and 18 months ago at the World’s by similar margins. And, you know, that is a tribute to your greatness. And now the whole world knows. We are so proud of you Michael here in America, and we are so proud of you and the way that you handle yourself, and you represent such an inspiration to all the youngsters around the world. You know, you weren’t born when I did what I did, and I’m sure that I was a part of your inspiration, and I take that as a full compliment. And they say that you judge one’s character by the company you keep, and I’m happy to keep company with you. And you have a tremendous responsibility for all those people that you are going to inspire over the next number of years, and I know that you will wear the crown well. Congratulations, Mike.
Spitz’s remarks came after another record-breaking anchor sprint by Jewish gold medal winnner Jason Lezak (photo, right) helped Phelps win his record-breaking eight gold. Lezak had earlier earned a bronze in his first individual medal win.
The NY Daily News wrote:
You just wonder how the Olympics will go on now without Michael Phelps. He leaped into the water one last time Sunday morning - the third, butterfly leg of the 4x100 relay. He started in third place and clambered out in first, after 100meters of flapping and kicking and swimming the lights out. Phelps grabbed the lead and then his old wing man, Jason Lezak, did the rest again.
Another American Jewish swimming star, Los Angeles-born Dara Torres, a 41-year old mom, was edged by .01 second and garnered a silver—the same margin that kept Michael Phelps on course to break Mark Spitz’s record, wrote the Los Angeles Times:
The five-time Olympian and the oldest American swimmer ever, settled for a silver when Germany’s Britta Steffen nipped her at the wall in the 50-meter freestyle to complete a sweep of the women’s sprint events in Beijing.
USA’s Dara Torres wins silver in the Women’s 50m freestyle. Image courtesy LATimes.com