IU and Olympic legend Mark Spitz. Mandatory Credit: Tony Duffy /Allsport (used via Getty Images subscription).
This post is sponsored by Yahoo! Sports. As the headline indicates, the directive is to write about our favorite Olympic moments, but I have to confess that I'm stretching the definition of "favorite." I don't remember the 1972 Summer Olympics. I wasn't yet born in 1972. But this is an IU site. Certainly, there have been memorable IU-related moments in the Olympics since then. The recently deceased Mark Lenzi won the individual gold medal in springboard diving in 1992 in Barcelona. In 1984 in Los Angeles, Bob Knight led the United States men's basketball team to the gold medal. That was the last time that the United States won the Olympic gold in basketball with a team that included only college players, and team included Steve Alford, who had just completed his freshman season at IU. As great as those moments were, however, few universities have done what IU students and alumni accomplished in men's swimming in Munich in 1972.
At the time, Indiana University, coached by the legendary Doc Counsilman, was the dominant power in college swimming, every bit as dominant as UCLA was in basketball during the same era. In 1972, IU won its fifth of what would become six consecutive NCAA team championships and the 12th of what would become 20 consecutive Big Ten championships. The centerpiece of IU's team, and of the US Olympic team, was Mark Spitz. Spitz enrolled at IU in 1968 after a "disappointing" performance in the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, where Spitz, already the holder of multiple world records, managed only two team gold medals and one silver medal as an individual. Spitz quickly rewrote the IU, Big Ten, and NCAA record books (over two decades later, as an IU student in the early 1990s, I remember swimming in Royer Pool and seeing Spitz's name on the record board), winning 8 individual NCAA titles during his career.
Spitz's accomplishments in Munich are well-known to IU fans and alumni and everyone else: he won seven gold medals, a record that was eclipsed by Michael Phelps in Beijing in 2008. Four of the medals were in individual events, and he was a member of all three of the USA's gold-winning relay teams. All seven of Spitz's gold medal performances set world records. Perhaps less known is the degree to which other IU swimmers aided the Olympic cause that year. Each of the three American relay teams included at least two IU swimmers, and the 4x200 freestyle relay included three Hoosiers. John Murphy (along with Spitz) won a gold in the 4x100 freestlye; John Kinsella and Fred Tyler (again, with Spitz) were on the 4x200 freestle team; and Mike Stamm (with Spitz) won the 4X100 medley relay. Stamm added two individual silvers, and Gary Hall, Sr. won an individual silver as well. Fifteen men, eleven of them Americans, won at least one gold medal in swimming in Munich. Five of them were IU swimmers.
Sptiz won his seventh and final gold medal on September 4, 1972. Unfortunately, the Munich Olympics are best remembered for what began in the early morning hours of September 5: the kidnapping and eventual murder of eleven Israeli athletes and coaches by terrorists. Spitz, who is Jewish, was considered to be at risk, as the highest profile Jewish athlete at the games, and therefore had no choice but to leave West Germany before the Olympics were over. Despite the unfortunate circumstances, however, the legacy of Mark Spitz and his IU teammates remains among the most impressive performances in Olympic history, and a proud moment for Indiana University.
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