LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Mark Spitz has rounded on Olympics chiefs for failing to invite him to Beijing for swimmer Michael Phelps’ quest to break his record gold medal haul in the pool.
The American expects his 36-year-old record of seven gold medals from a single Olympics will be broken by compatriot Phelps, and would like to witness the historic moment.
But Spitz is not holding his breath for an invitation from Olympics organizers.
“Unless I get that invite, I’ll be watching on TV,” Spitz, 58, said in a recent interview with Reuters. “I don’t think it’s going to happen. It’d be nice if it did. It would seem like the right thing to do.”
Phelps is in the hunt for eight gold medals in Beijing — adding to the six he won at the Athens Games in 2004.
Spitz, who will be in Hong Kong on business when the Olympics start on August 8, said he had no “hard feelings” about not being invited to Beijing.
“But I think that passing the baton ... would have been a phenomenal idea,” he said.
A spokesman for the International Olympic Committee in Lausanne said Spitz had not been formally invited, but “I suspect he will be there as he usually is”.
Spitz said Olympics organizers had little sense of history, unlike say Major League Baseball in the United States. He recalled that when Mark McGwire broke Roger Maris’ 37-year-old record for home runs in a single season in 1998, officials ensured members of Maris’ family were part of the festivities.
Sitting by the poolside at a Los Angeles hotel near his home, he had views on many issues — including men’s college sports programs, how short-selling of stocks is the key to financial success and how as a registered Republican he is leaning toward Democratic nominee Barack Obama.
Spitz still swims. He trains before dawn about three times a week, knocking off about 3,500 meters per session.
He has pursued various entrepreneurial projects with former NBA player Rick Barry. The married father-of-two also travels the world delivering about 25 lectures a year, and has just written a memoir, “The Extraordinary Life of An Olympic Champion”.
But wherever he goes, people just want to talk about Phelps, which is fine with him.
“It seems like I’m attached to him at the hip. So every move that he makes, left or right, (people) come and ask me, ‘Is he doing the right thing?’
“It’s not that easy for Phelps to do what he needs to do, but he has the capacity to do it because you just look at the track record. If you want to handicap the possibilities, I wouldn’t bet against this guy.”
Editing by Jeremy Laurence