Saturday, August 16, 2008

Mark Spitz and the '72 Dolphins

Great interview on NBC with Mark Spitz, Bob Costas and Michael Phelps.

Spitz was thoughtful, gracious, congratulatory.

Records are made to be broken--to measure ourselves against and to spur us to greater achievements. Most thoughtful people know that they are not an absolute measure of a competitor's greatness and do not necessarily indicate superiority across time. (Changes in equipment, training, knowledge, culture, all effect the pool of competition as well as the changes in approach we take towards sports.) Spitz seemed to understand that and used Phelps's achievement not as one last opportunity to draw attention to himself but as a platform to opine on what differentiates the mindset of those who accomplish epic feats.

Among his points, he rightly and interestingly praised Phelps for never backing away from challenging himself simply because doing so might put him in a position to fail. For example, he chose several years ago to compete in an event that was not his best and that was dominated by another swimmer. Despite bettering his own personal best in the process, Phelps wasn't able to overtake the other swimmer (I believe it was Ian Thorpe). But that was the moment, Spitz said, where he knew Phelps would someday match or exceed his own achievement, because even though Thorpe could have limited himself to events where he knew he could win (or in which he would be heavily favored), he dared to challenge himself. He took on a challenge before he knew it was attainable.

Spit, competed in the 1972 Olympics, a year which is famous for another athletic record--the Miami Dolphins' perfect season of 17-0. It is well chronicled that every year when the last NFL team remaining undefeated loses, a contingent of the '72 Dolphins meet together to toast themselves with Champagne; they allegedly have even sent gifts of champagne to teams that have knocked off undefeated teams, thereby protecting their record.

What a striking contrast in sportsmanship and psychology--between holding on to past achievements and thereby remaining rooted in the past and being secure enough in one's own self that one is free to acknowledge and admire that which is great in others.

Mark Spitz has been a great champion for 36 years.

He still is. And he still will be tomorrow, even if Michael Phelps wins an eighth medal.

No comments: