When “Baltimore Bullet” Michael Phelps won his eighth gold medal in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, not only his competitors were left in his wake. With this accomplishment, the swimming champion set a new record for number of first-place wins in a single year’s Olympic Games. In so doing, he broke a record that had been set thirty six years earlier by an athlete with an important Indiana connection.
California native Mark Spitz grew up swimming competitively, qualifying for his first Olympics in Mexico City in 1968. Earning only two out of a projected six gold medals there, Spitz decided to hone his technique at Indiana University with the legendary Doc Counsilman, who’d been coaching at the Olympics since 1956. The training paid off. Spitz went on to dominate the 1972 games in Munich, taking home the gold in each of the seven events in which he competed, setting seven new world records in the process.
Many with Indiana ties have made impressive showings in the Olympics. Divers on the U.S. team benefited from the expert guidance of IU’s Hobie Billingsley back in ’68 and ’72, and continue to compete under the university’s head diving coach Jeff Huber, who has coached at each Olympics since 2000. In 2008, Linton’s Bridget Sloan and Samantha Peszek of McCordsville helped the US gymnastics team take the silver medal in Beijing, while Merrillville native David Neville captured the bronze in the 400-meter run.