Whether for his mustache or his seven gold medals -- or both -- Mark Spitz enters the conversation each Olympic season.
A new authorized biography released this month, "Mark Spitz: The Extraordinary Life of an Olympic Champion" (Santa Monica Press, $24.95), looks back at the Modesto, Calif., native's record gold-medal haul at the 1972 Olympics in Munich, when Spitz set a world record each time he dived into the pool.
The 58-year-old was in Manhattan Tuesday as part of a promotional campaign for the pharmaceutical company Allergan.
What do you think of U.S. swimmer Michael Phelps' chances to exceed your achievements at the Beijing Games next month? Michael Phelps won six gold medals and two bronze medals in 2004. So he was awarded twice as many medals as I had in '68. ... He goes from those Olympics in Athens to the ones in Beijing with a lot more possibilities than I had. ... If you were going to handicap his possibilities, it would look pretty strong that he's going to go and not only be at least as successful as he was in Athens, but even more. That's my take on it.
Your mustache at the 1972 games -- was it a coincidence that it became so famous, since you really intended to cut it off at various points leading up to the Olympics? You asked and answered the question all at the same time. Yes to all of the above.
Why did you shave it off? Well, one, I'm not swimming anymore. And No. 2, it started to turn gray. And No. 3, my wife had never seen me, nor my family, without the mustache. I haven't had it for 20 years, so I'm happy.
Would you change what you did at 22, and instead remained an amateur and tried to compete in Montreal in '76? No, I was in dental school -- that was it. Quite frankly, I had won seven gold medals and there wasn't much left to do. I mean, I was so successful that was no reason for me to stay in the sport, as a presumption that most people my age had been retiring at that time.
Do you appreciate swimming for its beautiful simplicity? Beautifully simple comes from a lot of hard work, let me put in it that way. Sometimes when you see things that are remarkable, they do look graceful, or they do look rather simplified. But people work a lifetime to make that look that way.