When Mark Spitz was two years old, his family moved from California to Hawaii. He swam in the water at Waikkiki Beach almost every day, developing a prodigious childhood talent. Four years later, the family returned to California, but the swimming continued in earnest and at remarkable speed.
Before he'd even reached the age of ten, Spitz held 17 national and one world record at his age group and he went on to win his first national title at the age of 16. A year after that came the first full world record, in the 400m Freestyle.
His first Olympic Games were in Mexico in 1968, where he brashly predicted that he would win six gold medals. It was a prediction that did not come true – there were two golds, but both earned in team events. In the individual races, where so much had been expected, Spitz's haul was confided to a single silver.
Four years later, and his ambition was even greater. This time, Spitz had his eye on seven gold medals, and he started off with the same event that had been his final race in 1968 – the 200m b butterfly. He was nervous at the start, but in the end his victory was comfortable – two seconds clear, with a new world record.
The gold medals kept coming, and so did world records. By September 1, he had five of each. But now came the one event where victory seemed unsure – the 100m freestyle. Fellow American Jerry Heidenreich had been swimming well, and Spitz felt under pressure. He'd made it clear he was only interested in gold medals, claiming people would consider him a failure if he entered seven races and won only six of them. For a while, Spitz even considered withdrawing from the event.
In the heats, he held back, but in the final Spitz went off at top speed, holding a clear lead at the turn and holding on as Heidenreich neared him at the end. Spitz won by half a stroke, with yet another world record.
The final gold followed, and so did the place in history. Seven events, seven gold medals, seven world records. It was the greatest medal haul an athlete had enjoyed from a single Games, surpassed only by Michael Phelps in Beijing. It ensured Spitz was acclaimed as one of the great sportsmen of his time. At the age of 22, and having made history, he decided to retire from competition.