How I Came to Appreciate Mark Spitz – Part 4

SLC, Revenge, and Murray Rose

After Mark Spitz’ less than sterling performance at the Mexico City Olympics, he enrolled at the University of Indiana under Doc Councilman.  There was a lot of talk about how he would adjust to Doc’s style of coaching and how Doc would handle him.  Some of this came out at the NCAA Championships in 1969 in Salt Lake City.

One of the major concerns about holding the NCAAs at SLC was at the altitude of 4226’ above sea level.  Mexico City was 7382’, and as many Oregon swimmers know, swimming in Coos Bay at sea level is greatly different than at Elk Lake near Bend at 4800+ feet.

I was able to go to SLC, since it was after the Oregon high school swim season, still in the fall in 1969, and because Don Van Rossen, my old coach at Oregon, had a spot and ticket for the NCAAs that I could use.

The meet was fun.  It was the first meet that used a full board Colorado Timing System.  We were fascinated with having near instantaneous results posted above the finish line.  The system also ran splits for us.

During a heat of the 400 Free Relay, some water fell on the control panel near the pool and shorted the system out briefly.  Van Rossen turned to me and asked, “Do you have the splits?”  I shook my head and said, “No, I was using the board times, too.”  We had already become lazy and stopped using our suddenly obsolete windup watches.

The meet itself was full of tension after the Mexico Olympics.  Mike Burton was the swimmer of the meet, winning the 500 and 1650 freestyles and the 200 Butterfly.  Nobody, really, paid any attention to that, as the big race was going to be Spitz versus Doug Russell in the 100 fly, reprising the Olympic final, when Russell upset Spitz.

Arnold Spitz (Mark’s father) was high up in the stands, glowering as usual.  Spitz first swam the 50 free, and Councilman’s plan for him became apparent – take some pressure off Spitz by swimming him in different events.  Spitz did not swim the 200 fly at all, but he could not avoid the 100 fly.

The actual race was anti-clamatic.  Spitz blew Russell off in a convincing victory.  It wasn’t even close.  I don’t remember what other race Spitz swam, but the comeback from Mexico City had started.

While at the NCAAs, I was able to chat with Murray Rose, the great Australian distance freestyler, whom Dave Radcliff swam against in the Melbourne Olympics.  I asked Rose why he and other Australians in the 1950s were so superior to US swimmers in the distances.  He said, “We worked harder and swam farther.”  I asked, “How far did you go in a workout then?”  “About 7500 yards.”

When I think about that now, with 10 and unders and many Masters swimmers averaging 7500 yards a workout, I just shake my head.  Swimming has changed a lot since the Melbourne Olympics

To be continued: Part 5 – The Munich Olympics and Tom Jager

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