If Michael Phelps wins a record eight Olympic gold medals in swimming, Mark Spitz will not be in Beijing to congratulate him. In the 1972 Munich Olympics, Spitz not only won seven gold medals in swimming but he (and his teammates in three relay events) set seven world records, a remarkable display of dominance that will likely never be equaled, not even by Phelps. Spitz' record has already lasted 36 years, longer than such iconic standards as Babe Ruth's single season mark of 60 home runs (34 years, broken by Roger Maris) and Jim Brown's career rushing total of 12,312 yards (19 years, broken by Walter Payton). It would only be natural to assume that Spitz would be at the Olympics to congratulate Phelps and possibly award him his final medal if Phelps breaks the record. However, Spitz is understandably disappointed that he was not invited to the Olympics by the organizers, FINA (the international body that governs swimming) or the television networks: "I never got invited. You don't go to the Olympics just to say, I am going to go. Especially because of who I am. I am going to sit there and watch Michael Phelps break my record anonymously? That's almost demeaning to me. It is not almost--it is."
Spitz adds, "They voted me one of the top five Olympians in all time. Some of them are dead. But they invited the other ones to go to the Olympics, but not me. Yes, I am a bit upset about it."
Spitz believes that Phelps will break his record, noting, "He's almost identical to me. He's a world-record holder in all these events, so he is dominating the events just like I did. He reminds me of myself." It is worth noting, though, that Spitz did not have an opportunity to compete in eight events: "If they had the 50m freestyle back then, which they do now, I probably would have won that too."
I don't know if Spitz was deliberately snubbed for some reason or if this was just a ridiculous bureaucratic oversight but whoever was responsible for this decision should be ashamed. It is important to recognize and embrace history. Mark Spitz should be given a place of honor at the Beijing Olympics.