Mark Spitz's Youth

By Keith Bottum and Aaron Bass

Mark was born on February tenth, 1950, in California. He started swimming at a very early age. They lived in Hawaii from the time Mark was two until he was seven. His father taught him to swim even as he learned to walk. When they went to the beach, Mark, only three years old, would dash to the water like he was trying to commit suicide! He worked very hard on swimming, and at age eight, he went to his first official instructor. He would practice at the local YMCA, in Sacramento. At age nine, he was practicing ninety minutes a day and four days a week. As he got older, like about twelve, he would practice from the crack of dawn in the morning until school, and then after school from two-thirty until five o'clock!

His father used to say to him, "How many lanes are there in a swimming pool?" and Mark would reply "Six!" His father would then ask "And how many of these lanes win?" and Mark would reply "ONE!" Mark's father always pushed him to win. In competitive swimming, second is nothing. Arnold Spitz (Mark's father) would never say, "Very good, you came in second," because he didn't think that way. Arnold thought that Mark had the potential to be an excellent swimmer, so he pushed him to it. He also said "Swimming isn't everything--winning is." As a result, Mark grew up learning that winning was everything. In a way, maybe it was.

One year later, at ten years old, he set his first world record, swimming the fifty-yard butterfly, which he completed in thirty-one seconds. He had already gotten seventeen national group records by then! However, his family was constantly moving around, so he didn't really get much better. Then, at age fourteen, he got really serious about swimming. At the Pan-American games, in 1967, he won five gold medals. In 1967, and 1971, at seventeen and twenty-one years old respectively, he was voted the best swimmer of the year.

Go to the Mark Spitz Home Page


by Keith Bottum and Aaron Bass, Ligon G/T Magnet Middle School, Raleigh, North Carolina.