Spitz and Phelps speak
Kevin, et al.
Subject: The only human beings who've won 7 at one Olympics
By now, we all know your thoughts on Mark Spitz's words and actions over the previous week. He didn't make it to Beijing, but he did find his way onto NBC in the midst of what was surely a ratings bonanza. Below is a transcript (as provided by NBC), of Spitz and Michael Phelps, which followed the conclusion of the 100-meter butterfly.
Bob Costas: Alright, Michael, let's start with you. One one-hundredth of a second. It looked like Cavic was actually there first to the naked eye. But his final lunge left him a fingertip short, and you got there.
Phelps: Well, as soon as I took the last half stroke, to be honest, I thought that had lost the race. And that was the difference, cause if I would have glided then I would have come up short. I've been lucky enough over the last four years to have two pretty good finishes in Olympic finals. I guess I'm blessed.
Costas: In the same event in Athens you also had something close to a miracle finish. So not only are you getting it done, but the drama and the unlikely endings are there, including in the relay earlier, where (Jason) Lezak came through on the final leg.
Phelps: Yeah, you know, it's incredible. I think everything so far has gone as we wanted it to and gone as we planned. I've got one more race tomorrow. Tomorrow's going to be a tough one with the Aussies in that race. Hopefully we can do it again, put four guys together and go out there and try to swim as one.
Costas: Yeah, that's the medley relay tomorrow with the Aussies as the top competitors. And again, Lezak swimming in the free on the final leg. That should be interesting. We have Mark Spitz standing by. But one last thing before we get to him. Michael, Milorad Cavic of Serbia, who grew up in Anaheim, and is an American in a certain sense by background, but swims for Serbia. He was very, very respectful and had lots of praise for you, but also said 'if I can win this, it would be good for the sport, if Michael Phelps lost.' And Bob Bowman, your coach, made sure you were aware of that.
Phelps: He actually told me that this morning. And that fired me up more than anything. You know, it's the same kind of thing when one of the French guys was talking stuff about the 400 free relay. We use that as fuel. So, I always welcome comments and it fires me up even more when people do say things.
Costas: Well, I'm sure you will welcome these comments, because they ought to be filled with admiration. Here is Mark Spitz, by satellite, from Detroit. You've watched it with more interest and insight than the rest of us. What's your immediate reaction Mark?
Spitz: You know, Bob and Michael, I wondered what I was going to say at this monumental time, when it would happen and who I would say it to, and of course I thought I was going to say it to you for some time now. The word that comes to mind: epic. What you did tonight was epic. And it was epic for the whole world to see how great you really are. I never thought for one moment that you were out of that race, in contention, because I watched you in Athens win the race by a similar margin and 18 months ago at the Worlds by similar margins. And, you know that is a tribute to your greatness. And now the whole world knows. We're so proud of you here Michael, in America, and we're so proud of you in the way you've handled yourself and you represent such an inspiration to youngsters around the world. You weren't born when I did what I did but I'm sure I was part of your inspiration and I take that as a full compliment. They say that you judge one's character by the company that you keep, and I'm happy to keep company with you. You have a tremendous responsibility for all those people you're going to inspire over the next number of years and I know you're going to wear the crown well. Congratulations, Michael.
Phelps: Thank you, Mark.
Costas: What do those words mean to you Michael? Heartfelt words from Mark Spitz.
Phelps: You know, for so many years, everyone dreams about becoming an Olympian. You know from the past people who competed in the Olympic Games, and you're an Olympian for life, just like they are. There have been so many greats that have come before me, and what Mark did is still amazing. It's incredible, and it's a very, very hard thing to accomplish. I think it shows, whatever you put your mind to, you really can accomplish. When Mark won seven, he put his mind to something, and he did everything he could to get there. And it's the same thing for me. I've tried to stay as positive as I could and stay rested and recover. And there's so much that goes into it. I've tried to stay positive and dream big. And it's gotten me here. So, I'm very, very thankful.
Costas: Mark, I know by definition these comparisons are tricky. Era to era, and even discipline to discipline. How do you compare a swimmer to a skater like Eric Heiden or a track star like Carl Lewis or Jesse Owens? And the list is long. But having established that as a preface, A, is Michael the greatest swimmer of all times and B, can he be called the greatest Olympian of all time?
Spitz: I'm interested to hear what Michael has to say actually. I would say, you know, it's hard to compare somebody from one era to the next and one sport to the next. But one thing we definitely all have is this common thread of knowing how to win against our competitors and always maintaining ourself in top form, and Michael has been very successful in doing that. In one way, I think that what Michael did was more difficult than what I had done, because the swim teams now are a lot more diversified, and its harder for the Americans to win the relays. And, so, when Michael inspired, and he definitely inspired the four by one hundred freestyle relay, his other teammates, to do something for themselves as well, and that last leg by Jason Lezak was just remarkable, but it was all because of Michael as a team leader. And I think that he can be called, Michael, the best Olympian of all time. More so, not because of the fact that he's got more gold medals than anybody, but in the way he's handled himself and the way he's actually won, under a tremendous amount of pressure and tremendous amount of things that we would have no idea, except for perhaps myself, just a little iota of knowing what he has gone through. I was going to be trite and say to him and ask him this question: what was the most difficult race and when did you know you had a chance to win seven gold medals?" I don't have to. It was tonight, and it was epic.
Phelps: After the race, I think the biggest thing was, I was at a loss for words. And I'm still at a loss for words. Being able to follow so many great athletes, who have come though the Olympic games, and so many of those great athletes were Americans, I'm just honored and proud to be wearing the stars and strips and having the opportunity that I've had. I've been very, very lucky to be able to watch so many great Olympians growing up and seeing everything. So, I'm just happy to be in the same sentence as those athletes: Carl Lewis, Mary Lou Retton, Jesse Owens and Mark Spitz. All those guys are great Olympians and they will always be great Olympians. Once you're an Olympian, you're always an Olympian no matter what. And that's something no one can ever take away from you.
Costas: Continuing our live conversation with Mark Spitz, who's in the states and Michael Phelps. It's a fun game to play even if there is no real resolution, Mark what happens if Nicklaus and Woods tee it up in equal conditions and they're both at their respective peaks? What happens if Koufax pitches to A-Rod when they're both at their best? Do you ever allow yourself to think, same pool, same peak, same training methods, and I'm lining up with Michael Phelps?
Spitz: I think we all have, as people that are great at their sport, and opportunity against competitors, and that common thread exists through everybody that has achieved greatness. So I think if Michael and I were to have that chance, hypothetically, I certainly would know what made him tick and how to beat him, and he would know the same about me. So I would have to say now, we'd probably tie. But after tomorrow when he wins his eighth gold medal, I will take my hat off and be happy and glad to take second to Michael any day.
Costas: Michael, we were just watching some footage of Mark as he won a gold medal at the 1972 Munich Olympic games. He did it without the cap, he did it with the moustache in place, he did it with a swimsuit a regular guy could buy. He did it in a whole different world.
Phelps: I've seen a few of Mark's races and a lot has changed in that time, and really over the last four years. It's been cool to be a part of, and to see the change in the sport. This sport is starting to take off more and more, and it's been even more fun to be a part of. I'm glad to see everything, change for the better for American swimming anyway.
Costas: You know Mark, the cool part about this is that one of the many, just as what happens in other sports, when someone reaches a milestone, it brings back the person who established the previous standard. Those who recall it, are reminded, and those who didn't see it, get a new appreciation and understanding of what the earlier figure did. So this has kind of been a resurgence for you. They are more aware of what you did 36 years ago because of Michael Phelps.
Spitz: Well that has certainly happened, it's really because of Michael and his greatness. Four years ago I was there in Athens and had the honor and the privilege of watching Michael. And with just a little bit of an unfortunate result by one of the American relay teams, he would have been sitting there with seven medals four years ago. And I know what Michael must have been going through. For the next four years, he had the vision of winning seven gold medals, and go even higher with eight gold medals. And I personally thought that one of the most courageous medals that Michael did in the Athens games was to challenge himself against Ian Thorpe in the 200-meter freestyle. And I realized right then, that he was never afraid to take a challenge, regardless of what the consequence was. And he made a gallant effort, improving his time by two seconds. And I said to myself right there, that that's why this boy is going to win eight gold medals or seven gold medals, no matter what he wants to do four years from now. And when he broke the world record a year and a half ago in Melbourne, Australia in the 200-meter freestyle, I knew right away that it was sealed, and he was going to do it. One of the interesting things that I talked all over the world about why I did what I did, and I think that I'd like to share that with Michael is that the mystery, the magic, the wonder, the innocence of never having done it before, those are the seeds of creativity that came into my personal story. Michael chose his own path, and I'm so happy I was here with the rest of the world to see it.
Costas: Michael, the last word is yours. Those of us in the broadcast and print media can evaluate it and offer our own praise, but there you have it from the number one source Mark Spitz.
Phelps: I'm at a loss for words now, like I was after the race. It's something that you always want to do, and dream of doing and you think that you can do. But it's never really real until you do it. The biggest thing that I've been thankful for is that I have been able to use my imagination. When some people said it's not possible and it can't be done, I think that's when my imagination came into play. And I thought I had a chance to do it, Bob (Bowman) and I talked about it, and we were able to get here through a lot of hard work, it's been fun. And this is something that will always be a part of me, being able to equal Mark Spitz's record is an amazing accomplishment for me. And I'm thankful for him, and all the help and support he's given me. I definitely want to thank him for that.
Costas: Michael, thank you, we'll see you as you go for number eight at the pool tomorrow. Mark, thank you from the States.
(Photos: Associated Press)