In the early 1960's on Palm Avenue near Fair Oaks Boulevard, a huge yellow mailbox stood out from others, lining the street and guarding a small white house tucked away at the end of a long, gravel driveway. The residents name was boldly painted in black capital letters and was certainly hard to miss to passersby.
I often wondered if the "Spitz" family really lived there, and sure enough, they did. It was a pretty big deal at the time considering Mark Spitz would go on to shatter seven world records in the 1972 Summer Olympics, and bring home just as many gold medals.
Some of the newer Carmichael residents and readers of Carmichael Patch may be interested to learn that one of the greatest olympic champions of all time launched his legendary career right here in our own backyard, training at Arden Hills Swimming Club.
Spitz was born in Modesto back in 1950 and his parents Arnold and Lenore spotted his natural aptitude for swimming at a very young age, moving across the Pacific Ocean to Honolulu, Hawaii for his early training. In 1956, the family returned to California settling right on Palm Avenue in the heart of Carmichael and when Mark was a mere 9 years old, he began much more intensive training at Arden Hills, with his personal coach Sherm Chavoor.
In 1964, the family relocated to Santa Clara where Spitz began to compete on a national level, destroying the competition in virtually every event he entered. Everyone around him knew that Spitz was destined for Olympic glory and during his 4 years at Santa Clara High School, he held American records for every event he competed in, emerging as a recognized figure not just here in the United States, but globally.
Going on to attend Indiana University and train with respected NCAA swimming coach Doc Counsilman, Spitz was about to compete on the international stage in his first Olympiad, but not before setting eight new college records and being widely recognized as the top amateur athelete in the nation.
Prior the the 1968 summer games, he already held 10 world records. Anticipation was high for his appearance in Munich after a somewhat disappointing performance in the 1968 Mexico City Games, but he would ultimately go on to silence the critics.
Unfortunately, Spitz's incredible and unprecedented performances were overshadowed by the tragic kidnapping and subsequent murders of 11 athletes and officials from the Israeli team. Spitz was quickly evacuated from Munich because some of the committee officials feared that he may be targeted due to his Jewish descent.
After officially retiring from competition at the ripe old age of 22, Spitz went on to make millions of dollars in product endorsements including lucrative deals with the California Milk Advisory Board, Schick Razors and going on to work briefly with ABC Sports as a commentator covering the Olympic Games in 1976 and 1984. He posed for posters, appeared on The Tonight Show, Sonny and Cher Show and even played guest spots in several episodes of network programming, but within a few years, he had effectively vanished from the national limelight.
Following his retirement from swimming and television, he went on to start a very successful real estate company in Beverly Hills, taking an avid interest in sailing, skiing and collecting fine artwork. He was extremely competitive in open water racing and still remains quite the entrepeneur, delivering up to 25 lectures per year all over the world speaking about his many experiences.
Spitz has stated he no longer swims, but even today, remains an active voice in issues such a drug testing in the Olympics. He has been a vocal proponent of more rigorous testing and a very harsh critic of the IOC, which is perhaps why he was snubbed from recent ceremonies celebrating Michael Phelps breaking his long standing gold medal record.
Mark Spitz is not only a former Carmichael local but one of only five athletes in the history of the Olympics to win nine gold medals.