August 15, 2008, - 12:09 pm

Poor Sports Savage Good Sport Mark Spitz; Spitz Should Have Been Invited to the “Phelps Olympics”

By Debbie Schlussel
**** SCROLL DOWN FOR UPDATES ****
As I wrote earlier this week, it’s completely unfair to compare 1972’s true amateur Mark Spitz in tiny Speedo bikini to 2008’s high-tech, unitard encased Michael Phelps. Who knows, given the same conditions–and if they were the same age at the same time, if Phelps would beat Spitz?
That said, Mark Spitz has been an incredibly good sport in wishing Phelps well and in repeatedly telling interviewers that he hopes Phelps beats his 36-year record of holding the most Olympic Gold medals from any one Summer Games. He’s also said he’s held the record for too long, and that it’s time to be broken.

spitzphelps2.jpg

Mark Spitz Should Have Been Invited to Phelps Olympics

But Spitz is rightfully upset that no-one in the U.S. or International Olympic Committees invited him to the Olympics to watch Phelps break his record. Stupid move on their part. Here you have a champion magnanimously wishing another breaks his record, and no-one cares to invite him. He’s simply ignored. And, frankly, from a marketing standpoint, it’s stupid not to invite him. Speedo–whose suit Spitz wore in 1972–should have invited Spitz.

“You don’t go to the Olympics just to say, ‘I am going to go.’ Especially because of who I am,” Spitz, now 58, told a French wire service. “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.”

Exactly right.
The NHL invited Gordie Howe to watch Wayne Gretzky beat his all-time goal-scoring record. And other sports teams and leagues have done the same when other big records were broken. It’s not only the right thing to do, it’s great PR–PR, which everyone blew in the case of Spitz. To leave Spitz out is simply indecent.
But most jarring is the reaction Spitz has gotten from others, who’ve responded to Spitz, calling him a “poor sport.” The Detroit Free Press has a round up. HUH?:

Mark Spitz’s complaint about not getting invited to Beijing to watch Michael Phelps go after his record of seven gold medals isn’t getting much sympathy in the swimming community, Charles Robinson writes at Yahoo! Sports.
“Mark Spitz had one more gold medal left in him after all,” Robinson writes. “And in a medley event, no less: arrogance, vanity and back-to-back legs of self-pity.
And former Michigan head coach Jon Urbanchek, a U.S. assistant, told the Baltimore Sun of Spitz: “His time is gone. I’m sure he can afford a ticket if he wants to be here. It would have been nice for him to be here and witness it. I really feel he contributed a lot to swimming. But it’s time to turn the reins over to somebody else. You’ve got to move on with life. Get a life after swimming.”

These people are obnoxious. And, frankly–especially in the case of Urbanchek–they sound a little jealous that they never achieved Spitz’s sports greatness. Spitz has exhibited none of these negative attributes.
Spitz should buy his own ticket and pay for his own trip to see his record “broken”? It’s chutzpah to expect him to do that. But that’s what several of his critics are saying.
Yes, Spitz canceled plans to become a dentist and built a career as an endorser after the Olympics. But he was too much before his time in that career. In his day, he didn’t make millions of dollars in endorsements like Michael Phelps has already made and will continue to earn. Yes, Spitz did okay. But he’s not a multi-millionaire like Phelps or anything close. Today, he is a pitchman not for Viagra, but for Botox–things Phelps will never have to do because at the end of the Games he can retire at age 23 with millions. And, unlike Gordie Howe and his wife when Gretzky beat his record, Spitz has been incredibly warm and gracious to Phelps.
He deserved not only a free round-trip, first-class ticket for himself and his family to watch Phelps, but the royal treatment. As a then-agent of an Olympic Silver medalist diver, I watched at the 1996 Olympics as many former medalists of old (Mary Lou Retton, Bart Connor, etc.) were flown in and welcomed by Olympic officials as part of the extended but fraudulent Olympic “family”.
To not invite Mark Spitz, is not just wrong. It’s tasteless.
And everyone involved in this giant omission of him ought to be ashamed.
***
From what I wrote about Phelps v. Spitz, earlier this week:

If Michael Phelps gets the 8 medals and sets the record, what will that do for you, me, or America? Not much. But it’ll do a heckuva lot for sales of that Speedo unitard swimsuit contraption. Didn’t Jamie Lee Curtis, Jane Fonda, and Olivia Newton-John wear those in the ’80s? Remember, Mark Spitz was a true amateur in a tiny Speedo bikini with a hirsute body to slow him down. This guy, Phelps, is a well-paid, vitamin/electrolyte/magic protein-engorged professional encased in a second-skin cheater’s uniform.

Phelps is one of the great Olympic athletes. But he is not necessarily greater than Mark Spitz, regardless of whether he “breaks” Spitz’s record.
**** UPDATE: Reader Sean writes:

Thanks for covering the issue of Mark Spitz not being at the Olympics.
I heard the on-air commentators mention it once this past week, touching on the basics of the issue, then never bringing it up again. I’m sure they got silenced afterward. It’s bad enough the IOC wouldn’t invite a legend to the games, but I have NO IDEA why the USOC would neglect bringing him over. Like you said, this could have been a P.R. GOLD MINE for them, showing the still-smiling Spitz as he sees his record broken, the link to today’s U.S. Olympian to the past greatness that inspired him. But all this begs the question: Why? Why did neither Olympic body invite him? There’s probably a story there, and I’d be willing to bet there’s petty back-stabbing involved.

I bet the same way on this.
**** UPDATE #2: Reader Charles has another theory, which–given the anti-Semitic history of the Olympics–I think has a lot of validity:

I read your position on Mark Spitz. It occurred to me that you have omitted something really important.
The IOC and the US Committee under Avery Brundage were outright anti-semites. I believe Spitz’s treatment is more of the same.
In the ’36 Berlin Olympics they did not allow the Jews, such as Marty Glickman, to race so as not to embarrass Hitler. The Arab terrorists attacked the Jews, the games just went on. To tell the truth I wont even watch the damn show.

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21 Responses

Right on.

KrazyKafir on August 15, 2008 at 1:04 pm

“His time is gone”?? A record-holder’s time is gone? As a HUGE baseball fan, having the swimming community show such disrespect towards one its giants (its ONLY giant?) just does not compute. Baseball (although sometimes mismanaged in the Selig era) honors every past performer it get its hands on (well, except for Pete Rose, of course).
When Rose broke Stan Musial’s NL hit mark, it was ubercool to see Stan the Man at the ballpark. As a Phillies fan, I’d show up at a minor league game if Dickie Noles was planning on making an appearance! I once crashed a Little League day clinic because Jimmy Wynn was there.
As one who likes parts of the Olympics, I would have LOVED to have seen Mark Spitz on hand. I betcha (sorry, Pete), I just betcha the ChiComs didn’t want him there for some reason. I haven’t figured out the connection just yet, but I wouldn’t put anything past them.

bleechers on August 15, 2008 at 1:38 pm

i know this may come as a shock to you, being wrong and all, but the reason Phelps does well is his bodytype, not because he doesn’t wear “tiny speedos” (though you seem to bring that up alot…wishful thinking perhaps?). Plus, he wore those in 2004, and did well (as well as 2000). You spend all your time complaining that the Olympics are “anti-American,” and as soon as an American does well, you bitch and moan about it.

lolwut on August 15, 2008 at 2:25 pm

also, heres what Spitz said in an interview:
“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.”
[L: HE EXPRESSED HIS DISAPPOINTMENT A LOT MORE FORTHRIGHTLY IN OTHER INTERVIEWS I’VE SEEN. DS]

lolwut on August 15, 2008 at 3:45 pm

first of all: source
secondly:
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.

lolwut on August 15, 2008 at 4:42 pm

It broke my heart seeing the disrespect heaved on Mark Spitz. And, it shamed and embarrassed me.
It’s phenomenal that Spitz has been lead for so many years… no one has heretofore touched his GREATNESS.
In return, he is ignored. Heartbreak, shame, and embarrassment.

GOLDENMIKE4393 on August 15, 2008 at 5:59 pm

The comment about body type is sort of puzzling; both Spitz and Phelps are world-class swimmers, and undoubtedly have similar body types so differences such as Debbie wrote about become more important.
I agree with Debbie and Charles that anti-semitism is likely to be involved. The Olympics is kind of like the United Nations. When you have so many kooky countries involved, things go down to the lowest common denominator, which is anti-semitism. How many of the countries in the Olympics are allies of Israel? Enough said.
there is another dimension to the treatment of Spitz, and that is the general rudeness and churlishness of sports nowadays. You have riots at soccor games, fans at all kinds of sporting events fighting everybody, athletes on drugs, uncivil and illegal behavior, financial deals trumping athletics, and so on. The general decline in civility provides a wider context for the antisemitism.

c f on August 15, 2008 at 7:19 pm

First, everyone is right, the IOC is acting churlishly and boorishly. And everyone is also right: the USOC should have picked up the slack.
But could we PLEASE stop talking about the swimsuits? Yes, Phelps is wearing a high-tech suit. Spitz wore the high-tech suit of his day. Here’s the quote from the Wikipedia article on “Swimming at the Summer Olympics:”
“Male swimmers wore full body swimsuits up until the 1940s, which caused more drag in the water than their modern swim-wear counterparts.”
Not that Wiki’s the be-all and end-all, but you can google photos from the period and see the evidence for yourself. If you could put Spitz in 1972 and Phelps today in a time machine & switch them, Phelps would wear Speedos & Spitz would wear the new suits. And Phelps would probably STILL beat Spitz’s times.
I mean, come on, guys. Phelps beat Spitz’s time in the 200 m freestyle by almost TEN SECONDS. The 100 m butterfly, 3.5 seconds; the 200 m butterfly, 8 seconds. I won’t even go into the relay times. NO suit could give that advantage.
Spitz was the greatest of his era. Phelps is better. End of story.

DocLiberty on August 15, 2008 at 11:26 pm

Debbie-
I just watched Mark Spitz’s live from Detroit congratulations and discussion with Phelps after his late Friday evening win.
What a class act Spitz is!!!!!

NickFury on August 15, 2008 at 11:57 pm

Let’s remember that you win a Gold Medal when you beat the competion and not when you do better than someone did 30 years ago. Phelps has twice won more Gold than anyone else in a given olympiad, first in Greece and now in China.
Still, there is no accurate way to compare Spitz and Phelps, other than to recognize that were both at the top of their game, each in his era.
Too bad that Spitz was not invited to attend by the Olympic Committee. Everybody (almost) loves a winner. Politics, politics everywhere.

Happiness Pursuer on August 16, 2008 at 12:55 pm

Debbie, I respect you tremendously – and even though we disagree now, I will continue to respect you. But in the case of your accusing the Olympic committee and critics of Mark Spitz of anti-semitism, well, I’m afraid it’s really YOUR bias that’s showing. This has nothing to do with racism – and everything to do with personality. Face it, Spitz is an arrogant, egotistical shit. And he’s always been that way. You don’t have to look hard at all to find stories of how unpleasant and arrogant the man is. For my part, the cocky, arrogance of the man made me uncomfortable from the beginning. My initial reaction was completely supported by one of my friends, an alternate in the ’72 Olympics swim team, who’d trained with Spitz. She instantly confirmed my suspicions – saying that Spitz was universally disliked amongst all his teammates for his arrogance and selfishness. He was not swimming for them or for his country – he was swimming only for himself and for all the money and glory he could get. His team and his country could go to hell. And his nasty personality came through loud and clear to the public after the Olympics which is why his greedy attempt to cash in his medals for money flopped miserably. The public just couldn’t stand him.
And his unpleasant personality hasn’t changed. It’s interesting that you only refer to Spitz being a ‘good sport’ NOW towards Phelps – but that was not Spitz’s first reaction. To the contrary, his instant response was to throw a monumental sulking, self-pitying temper tantrum because the Olympic committee hadn’t invited him as a special guest – paying all of Spitz’s enormous demands of private suites, private planes, etc. There was not a word in his tantrum about pride that this great country would be receiving glory or that a gifted athlete would be getting his due – no, Spitz didn’t give a damn about them. This was all about HIM!! “I didn’t get invited, wah wah!”
And charging the Olympics with ‘anti-semitism’ against Spitz collapses when you realize they DID invite him – to the 2004 Olympics when Phelps was originally expected to break Spitz’s record. Spitz went to Athens where he obviously gave the Olympic officials an unpleasant and upfront view of his arrogance and egotism. The same attitude which the American press got a nasty dose of when Spitz whined and sulked about not being invited to Peking.
I’m all for anti-semitism being called out when it happens. Anti-semitism is a dangerous and perfidious evil that must be fought at all times. But it is a dangerous and unwise thing to cheapen it and thereby lessen its horror by attributing it to an instant where it does not belong. And in the case of Mark Spitz, it is not his Jewishness which offends – it is his obnoxious personality.
[C: I POSTED SOMEONE ELSE’S–A READER’S–COMMENTS ABOUT THE ANTI-SEMITISM. WHICH PART OF THE INDENTATION DID YOU NOT NOTICE? ALSO, THE OLYMPICS HAVE A HISTORY OF ANTI-SEMITISM. IF YOU DON’T LIKE THAT, CONTACT THE USOC AND IOC, NOT ME. YOU CANNOT DENY THIS HISTORY, AND WHILE I DID NOT SAY THAT IS THE REASON WHY SPITZ HAS NOT BEEN INVITED, WE DON’T KNOW WHY HE WASN’T INVITED AND THAT MIGHT BE PART OF IT. WE DON’T KNOW. THAT YOU DID NOT GET THAT THIS WAS A READER’S COMMENT AND THAT I SAID THERE MIGHT BE VALIDITY TO IT, GIVEN THE OLYMPICS’ HISTORY OF ANTI-SEMITISM, SHOWS ME THAT YOU MUST TAKE A COURSE IN READING COMPREHENSION.
YOUR LONG COMMENT OBJECTING TO THIS READER’S COMMENT IS VERY DISTURBING AND SHOWS YOUR BIAS, NOT MINE. IT ALSO MAKES ME THINK YOU HAVE SOME SORT OF PROBLEM WHEN PEOPLE LEGITIMATELY RAISE THE ISSUE OF ANTI-SEMITISM AS THIS READER DID ABOUT THE OLYMPICS’ HISTORY.
WHAT IS OBNOXIOUS ABOUT MARK SPITZ? PLEASE PROVIDE A CONCRETE, DOCUMENTED EXAMPLE, RATHER THAN EMPTY NAME-CALLING BASED ON THIS ANONYMOUS SCORNED, JEALOUS WOMAN. DO YOU NOT THINK MICHAEL PHELPS IS SWIMMING FOR HIMSELF, TOO? IS HE SHARING WITH YOU OR ME THE MILLIONS IN ENDORSEMENTS? PUH-LEEZE. THEY ARE ALL IN IT FOR THEMSELVES. AS A FORMER AGENT FOR SEVERAL OLYMPIANS INCLUDING A SILVER MEDALIST, I CAN SAY WITH A LOT OF CERTAINTY THAT MOST OLYMPIANS ARE SPOILED AND SELFISH. MARK SPITZ IS NO DIFFERENT OR WORSE THAN MICHAEL PHELPS ON THAT COUNT.
IT SOUNDS LIKE YOUR FRIEND HAS A BONE TO PICK WITH MARK SPITZ. MAYBE SHE’S UPSET SHE WAS ONLY AN ALTERNATE, AND HE WAS ONE OF THE WORLD’S GREAT OLYMPIANS. MAYBE HE SPURNED HER INTEREST IN HIM. AND YOU KNOW WHAT THEY SAY: HELL HATH NO FURY LIKE A WOMAN SCORNED. DS]

Carolyn says on August 16, 2008 at 4:29 pm

Carolyn’s post is long on invective, but very short on specifics except for anonymous non-named he-said, she-said allegations. Unfortunately, the present Olympics is fundamentally flawed. All sorts of Chinese athletes are posting times and records that seem to surprise everybody — people no one ever heard of before giving remarkable performances. Who knows what else is going on?
Concepts of nutrition, training, facilities are infinitely more advanced today than in 1972; they invevitably make a difference in performance times, everything else being equal. Unless we want to believe the human race has rapidly evolved during the last few decades in all types of sports, e.g. running, swimming, etc., how else can we explain that world records in a variety of athletic disciplines seem to get broken, one after another?
Maybe this is unfair, but when I read comments like this, I wonder ‘who’s paying’? Especially to see the unqualified reliance on MSM reports (aside from the vagueness, which on this blog will not impress anybody).

c f on August 16, 2008 at 8:48 pm

One other curious thing; there are a lot of web postings now about Spitz’ “arrogance”. This at a time when so many professional athletes are involved with steriods, immoral behavior, illegal behavior, widespread lack of ethics by numerous sports figures, but everyone focuses on Spitz. Does that remind you of anything?

c f on August 16, 2008 at 9:05 pm

I suppose the IOC didn’t invite Spitz for the same reason they won’t commemorate the 1972 Munich massacre. You can slander Spitz for his failings, but being Jewish is doubtless his biggest one to the IOC.
[A1: EXACTLY RIGHT. DS]

Anonymous1 on August 16, 2008 at 11:17 pm

Final thought: 8 for 8. 14 golds (and 2 bronze) total. Probably more in 4 years.
Spitz WAS the greatest. Phelps now IS.

DocLiberty on August 17, 2008 at 12:13 am

Just one word about the Michigan connection, this idiot coach and idiot Detroit paper; Detroit has the worst mayor in the country (although there are a lot of people at his heels). The U of M is one of the worst PC and anti-semitic schools in the country. It is where SDS originated, the first traitorous teach-in against the Vietnam war, and more recently, the leader in promoting ‘affirmative action’. Whoever heard of a university president with the name ‘Mary Sue’? All kinds of pandering to Muslims; A politically correct attitude virtually demands anti-semitism, and it is almost impossible to survive or thrive in Ann Arbor without it. Ever take a look at the titles published by the University of Michigan press? Any decent person who gives money to that institution is a fool.

c f on August 17, 2008 at 6:42 am

Dear Debbie.
I agree with everything you have written here. But I believe this is a big bunch of BS:
…he hopes Phelps beats his 36-year record of holding the most Olympic Gold medals from any one Summer Games. He’s also said he’s held the record for too long, and that it’s time to be broken.
There is no way I am ever going to believe that this is exactly how he feels. I believe that he said it. But I don’t think he meant it. Because it doesn’t make any sense. Why in the world would anyone wish to be bested? Or wish to have one’s record broken?
Last football season. Toward the end. Don Shula, and Bob Griese were being interviewed on some sports show, and they said, (I’m paraphrasing) “Oh sure!” “We’d love to have out record for a perfect season broken by the Patriots!” “We hate our record!” “We wish we didn’t even have a record!” I believe they actually said that they were routing for the Patriots. As soon as I heard that, I laugh to myself, and thought, “What a crock.” And Rush Limbaugh said pretty much the same thing.
Now Mark Spitz is probably a nice guy. And he is probably a good sport. And if I ever met him, I might shake his hand, and thank him for making the ’72 Olympics so exciting. But like I said. Wishing for your record to be broken just doesn’t make any sense.
Oh! Here’s another thing I just thought of. What the hell else is Mr. Spitz going to say? Some guy sticks a microphone in his face, and asks him how he feels about Mr. Phelps. That’s like you, standing next to your husband, and some reporter comes up to you, and says, “Have you ever cheated on your mate?” What are you going to say? “Oh yeah!” “I cheat on him every chance I get!” “I only married the bastard for his money!”
No. You’d say, “Who me?” “Why I would never cheat on the best doggone hubby in the whole wide world!”
So no. Mark Spitz is not going to say anything like, “Michael Phelps sucks.”
Sincerely;
EJO

EJO on August 17, 2008 at 2:21 pm

I think debating whether he was invited to the Olympics or not is pointless considering Spitz was in Detroit to watch his son play basketball at the Maccabiah Games the night Phelps tied his record. Spitz himself was once a Maccabiah participant. I think I know what his choice would have been if he had been invited.
Also Spitz did very well financially after his Olympics. Maybe not as well as Phelps will do, but he was no pauper and yes, he was a multi millionaire. Whether he is now or not…..who knows, but at one time he was rollin` in the dough of his day.

Hermster on August 17, 2008 at 8:20 pm

Mark Spitz did very well for himself even after his significant achievements faded from view, which wasn’t long after Munich. After all, the great racehorse Secretariat became a national obsession during his three-year-old racing career which came right after Spitz’s achievements. Realizing he wasn’t cut out to be an actor, Spitz eventually went into a successful real estate business in Beverly Hills and became a stockbroker and motivational speaker.
I think the “arrogant” rap against Spitz is unjustified. He was very young when he won the Munich medals, just 22 years old, and international fame and riches came to him rather suddenly.
In recent interviews he has come across as very supportive of Phelps and was gracious to a fault. It was indeed a dirty trick for the Olympic organizers to have not invited him to Beijing.

Susan Nunes on August 18, 2008 at 2:07 pm

I caught Mark Spitz joint interview with Michael Phelps.
It was wonderful. Too bad he wasn’t there in PERSON.

GOLDENMIKE4393 on August 18, 2008 at 2:31 pm

It was no scandal not inviting Spitz to the Olympics. If he had no other things to be attending I am sure the IOC or USOC would have invited him. Also Spitz has been nothing but polite and a good sport to Phelps.

lancelot on January 7, 2010 at 4:17 pm

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