This week a panel of 35 ESPN experts ranked the top 30 U.S. Summer Olympic athletes of all time, with swimmer Michael Phelps coming out on top. The rest of the top five were track's Jesse Owens, track's Carl Lewis, swimming's Mark Spitz and track's Michael Johnson.
We're a day away from the 2012 Olympics, and fans will once again be focusing on how Phelps can increase his medal total of 16.
So Playbook chased down 62-year-old, two-time Olympian Spitz, who competed in 12 events and medaled in 11 of them.
Spitz shared his thoughts on Phelps and the retirement talk, his business venture and exercise.
Mark, so do you have Olympic fever?
“I’m fascinated to watch the coverage. I love the interesting stories. The expected usually happens. And the unexpected gets the real headlines in the Olympics.”
So you're going to watch more than just swimming?
“I will turn it on in the morning and listen to the beautiful music. I’ll do that until I’m fed up after the 17 days. It’ll take me four years to get it out of my head and then I’ll be back. And I don’t think I could survive without that music again.”
Phelps broke your record at the last Olympics, but you're still well-known as one of the best swimmers ever. How is that for a legacy?
“I’ve been thinking about how to answer that, and I’m happy to be defined as an Olympian. I set a record that lasted 36 years until Michael Phelps broke it. It’s amazing that I was an inspiration to someone not even born yet to achieve and excel in my sport. That’s the greatest accolade I could leave for my sport and the Olympic movement. What is a higher regard?"
So how well do you think Phelps will do this summer? Seems a lot of attention has been given to his chief U.S. rival, Ryan Lochte.
"As media goes from story to story, sometimes you’re not the flavor of the month. And all eyes are on Ryan Lochte and we’ll have to see how that plays out. You’ll have to ask your colleagues in the media why Lochte is everywhere. And they said at one time, if you’re on the cover of Sports Illustrated, it’s a jinx. Well, I was on the cover of Sports Illustrated two days before my Olympics. It must have helped me. Good for Ryan to be everywhere.”
What is your relationship with Phelps?
“Some of the latest articles about me say I’m the godfather of swimming. I’m old enough to be Phelps and Lochte’s father. But the connotation of godfather means I might have something up my sleeve helpful to both. Not sure I have anything up my sleeve to help either of those two.”
You’ve recently partnered with a new supplement by New Vitality called Ageless Male. Tell us about it.
"As I was approaching the other side of the line in the sand, I wanted to focus on a lifestyle change and an eating change and a metabolism change. I got involved with this product. It allows you to be more vibrant and it supports a healthier lifestyle."
So are you trying to slow down the aging process or turn back the clock?
“It’s kind of likening it to a piece of exercise equipment. If it sits in a closet, it does you no good. It’s not trying to prolong getting older. It’s just feeling better with what you have.”
And you’re still swimming, right?
“It’s a great sport. It really helps your cardiovascular. But I am walking much more than I am swimming. With a smartphone, you can be on the phone while exercising outside and not bothering anybody. You can scream and no one can hear you. All while working out for an hour and a half.”
Did you ever get bored at swimming?
“It happened all the time while I was a competitor. Lots of times it was hard to get up and subject myself to potentially losing. Imagine working out for another year or two. When I read the press about Michael, he’s been swimming for so many years. What’s his next move? It’s hard to motivate yourself. You don’t have to be an Olympic athlete to fall into the same situation.
Phelps keeps talking that this might be his last Olympics. Do you agree?
“He didn’t go to college or graduate school. He didn’t work at a real job. He didn’t take the course most people do in their life. The sport disappears every four years. So Phelps will disappear. But it’s hard to disappear when you had so much success. He is only 27. He could go to 31 and the next Olympics. I think a year or two into retirement, he will train even for one event. I think that’s what we’re going to see. I think he’ll come out of a self-proclaimed retirement and see him surface."
In your time, you retired at 22 because you needed to make money for school. Do you wish you could have returned to the water?
"Because of the rules, I couldn’t. My sponsors would have been delighted for me to compete. I don’t think I would have swam in seven events again. But I would have loved to go to Montreal [in 1976] and come back with a couple of medals.”