A for Athlete

Mark Spitz reveals the story behind his mustache[]

by Sal Pizarro on November 18th, 2007 at 10:09 pm | Categorized as Celebrities, San Jose

Stories are one thing you can count on at the San Jose Sports Hall of Fame induction ceremony, which was held last Wednesday at HP Pavilion.Of course, sometimes the storeis can go on a little long — but I’m not going to put the hook on any of the inductees, who this year were Brian Boitano, Kim Oden, Bud Ogedn and Ralph Ogden, Bert Bonanno and Mark Spitz. Their accomplishments have earned them the right to go on a few minutes.

I will share one of the stories, though, which came from Mark Spitz. The Olympic swimmer, who trained at the Santa Clara Swim Center under George Haines and won seven gold medals at the 1972 Olympics in Munich, shared with the audience the secret behind his then-controversial bushy mustache.

Spitz said he originally grew the mustache as a form of rebellion against the clean-cut look imposed on him in college. “It took a long time to grow,” he said.

He planned to shave it off before the trials for the 1972 Olympics but noticed his competitors were talking more about his facial hair than thinking about their swimming. So he kept it and made the Olympics.

At Munich, he was still wearing the mustache when talked his way into some extra practice time while the Soviet team was using the pool. His plan was to follow a normal swimmer’s ritual and shave his body the next day before the race.

Bu afterward, the Russians asked Spitz about some bogus moves he’d been making in the pool and about his mustache. On the spot, he told them the moustache helped him swim faster because it moved water away from his mouth.

With the competition again thinking more about his moustache than their own technique, he decided to keep it — and won seven gold medals.

“Next time, all the Russian swimmers had mustaches. Even the East German women,” he said.