In the fall of 1972 Mark Spitz had just finished his assault on the Olympic record books, winning 7 times in Munich. In two short weeks Spitz had transformed himself from World Class athlete in a sport nobody cared about, to World's Best athlete in a sport everyone would soon remember they didn't care about.
These days he spends his time as a stockbroker and as an avid viewer of pornography. "I have almost every movie Anita Dark ever made" Spitz tells me from the living room of his Modesto, CA home. It was a Saturday night in August, the night that Michael Phelps, America's newest vacuous hero, was poised to break Spitz' long standing record of 7 Gold Medals and 7 World Records in a single Olympic Games.
"You know. I thought I'd take that record with me to the grave," said Spitz. "I was a perfect 7 for 7 with 7 golds and 7 records. How could anybody beat that? And you know what, nobody ever would have if they hadn't added the 50m freestyle ... if they had that in my day, I would've won that one too. And now they have these fancy swim suits, and frictionless water. Shit, I did everything I did with a hangover, a mustache and a full bush. Sure we knew about friction back then, but I wasn't some kind of teenage virgin like Phelps. I needed my pubes. We all did. But I'd rather go a little slower in the pool, if I could bang a little faster. It was the 70s, and a dude without pubes, wasn't any kind of dude at all."
"You know that poster of me in the Speedo's with all my gold medals", he says as he points to the one mounted on the ceiling above his sleeper sofa. "That was the biggest selling poster for 4 years ... until Farrah Fawcett sold all those hard nipple posters," Spitz said with a hint of sadness, as if he could feel all his records crashing down around him.
Spitz had been enjoying the Olympics so far. Michael Phelps had helped to revive his fame a little, and had brought back some good memories. "I even got recognized at the Dairy Queen the other day without having to do that "index finger over the lip thing" that everyone always makes me do when they think it might be me, but then don't believe me when I say 'it's me.' You know, so they can picture me with a mustache. I shaved it when it went gray ..."
As Spitz' words trailed off into nothingness, he gazed out his window with palpable nostalgia. After a moment he turned to me, visibly shaken "No matter what happens tonight, Michael Phelps will never know what it's like to be Mark Spitz. He'll never get to see Zeppelin live, he'll never get to meet John Lennon, he'll never be on Carson or Sonny and Cher or "Emergency" 'cause that show got canceled, and the other 3 people died in a motorcycle accident. I was a TV star, dammit. And Phelps might have all the fame and money in the world, but he'll never get to have tons of indiscriminate sex with girls with big bushes and real boobs. No. Not without a condom he won't."
The shag carpeting of Spitz' anachronistic living room cruelly flickered like digital water in the cool glow of Spitz' even more sadly outdated 32" non-HD Cathode Ray Tube television. The American men, who had never lost the Men's 400m Individual Medley, took to the pool. And Michael Phelps, the young man with flippers and gills and weird ears and messed up teeth and a personality like Soy Milk, swam the third leg of the relay easily and without visible effort, in comfortable oblivion to the man sitting next to me. Although Phelps was the one swimming his 17th swim of the Olympics that night, when it was over and Phelps had won his 8th and final gold of the games, it was Spitz who looked exhausted.
Unable to find the remote, Spitz slowly walked over to the TV and turned it off. He quietly opened the sliding door to his balcony, and proclaimed to the valley of newly christened Michael Phelps disciples below him, "It's just swimming. It's just gold medals. Nobody cares. I invented this shit. I had a mustache."