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Amazing Moments in Olympic History: Mark Spitz

Sept. 02, 2009, 10:25 a.m. (ET)

Swimmer Mark Spitz became the first Olympian to win seven gold medals in one Olympic Games when he achieved that feat in Munich in 1972. Spitz, then 22, won all seven events in which he participated and set world records in each event as well. The last athlete who held the record for winning the most Olympic gold medals in one Olympiad was Nedo Nadi, an Italian fencer who won five Olympic gold medals in 1920.

Spitz, of Modesto, Calif., felt he needed to redeem himself in Munich after his performance at the Mexico City 1968 Olympic Games. Spitz predicted he was going to come home from Mexico City with six gold medals. Instead he returned to the United States with two golds in the 4 x 100-meter and 4 x 200-meter relays, a silver medal in the 100 fly and a bronze and in the 100 free.  

Although many athletes would be more than pleased with those results, Spitz wasn't satisfied. He decided to swim at Indiana University to train with coach Doc Counsilman, considered one of the greatest swimming coaches and the U.S coach of the 1968 Games.

Spitz's goal for 1972 was to win a gold medal in an individual event. And he did -- four times. His first event was the 200 fly, in which he had placed last in 1968. He put the past behind him and earned his first individual Olympic gold medal -- and his first world record of the Games. He then proceeded to win gold medals in the 4x100 relay, 200 free, 100 fly, 4 x 200 freestyle relay, 100 free and the 4 x 100 medley relay.

The Munich 1972 Olympic Games made Spitz a star, and many Americans remember a poster with Spitz's seven gold medals draped around his neck.

But the Olympic Games also were a difficult time for Spitz, who had to flee the Games early after 11 Israeli athletes were kidnapped from the Olympic Village and later killed by Palestinian terrorists. Spitz had already completed his swimming events, but many feared for Spitz's safety because he is Jewish and was such a high-profile star at the Olympic Games. (Seven years after making Olympic history, Spitz was inducted into the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.)

Spitz made a brief comeback attempt when he was 41 and tried to qualify for the Barcelona 1992 Olympic Games.

Spitz was a natural swimmer. His father taught him how to swim around the same time he was learning how to walk. When he was 10, he held one world record and 17 national age-group records, and was elected the world's best 10-and-under swimmer.

The 11-time Olympic medalist was named World Swimmer of the Year three times (1967, 1971, 1972). Decades later Sports Illustrated held a poll where Spitz was voted Athlete of the Century in water sports, and the International Olympic Committee chose him as one of five Olympic athletes of the century.

The now 59-year-old frequently sails, travels and acts as a motivational speaker. Spitz lives with his wife and two sons in Los Angeles.

Michael Phelps broke Spitz's 36-year-old record when he won eight gold medals in Beijing last year. However, Spitz always will be remembered as one of the greatest Olympians of all time because of the seven Olympic gold medals he won when he competed in Munich.