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Mark Spitz: A Different Kind of Winning

By Michelle D. Healy

After several years experimenting--often unsuccessfully--with the lucrative acting and endorsement opportunities awaiting him upon return from Munich in 1972, Mark Spitz, the celebrated swim star of the 20th Olympiad, decided to try his hand in business. While not yet approaching a par with his swimming achievements, the Californian is doing just fine as head of his own SUMARK Corporation.

In spring 1976, the former Indiana University pre-dental student enrolled in two science courses at USC with plans to attend I.U. Dental School after deferring for four years. Despite enjoying the course work on the campus of the arch-rival Trojans, the Hoosier alumnus left the classes after just a few weeks to return to managing his growing business interests.

"I always planned to become a dentist after my swimming days ended following senior year, but then found myself involved in something I enjoyed more and kept putting off Dental School until I had firmly established myself in business," Spitz said recently from his Century City, Calif., office. "I am sure now that the decision to go back four years later and crack the books again stemmed from reading too much about how I was expected to become Mark Spitz, D.D.S."

Through SUMARK Corporation, Spitz conducts a growing firm with interests in construction, development and investment. The investment division, which Spitz owns completely, includes large real estate holdings in California, Hawaii, and Texas. He spends most of his time managing this particular sector of SUMARK where he capitalizes on self-taught business skills.

"Much of the knowledge I have accumulated thus far would be difficult to duplicate in classroom situations. It is largely a process of trial and error. Fortunately I seem to possess talent in the field of business, so the errors I make are fewer and fewer all the time and, more importantly, less severe." Spitz said, "Certainly some coursework would have been helpful and I regret not taking advantage of business classes offered at Indiana."

Reputed to have received some 500 offers to lend his name to products after the Olympics, Spitz has phased out most of his work in endorsements. The bulk of the time he spends away from wife, Susan, and SUMARK, which is named for the two of them, involves traveling for Elton Swim Products, Arena Swim Wear, or doing color commentary for ABC broadcasts of major swim meets.

The eight-time NCAA champion began doing color work for CBS almost immediately following the 1972 Olympics and then switched to ABC a short time later. He is in Cambridge this week to prepare the delayed broadcast of the Championship meet which will be shown on Wide World of Sports in the near future.

In the role of a sportscaster, Spitz stays close to swimming and the record breaking performances that continue to lower the once seemingly unshatterable barriers. From age eight to the time he left the sport 14 years later, Spitz racked up scores of records; in Munich alone, the butterfly and freestyle specialist set or contributed to a world record in every event in which he competed.

"Seeing my records broken comes as neither a surprise nor a disappointment. After this much time in swimming I know that records never last long, the constant drops in time are what makes the sport interesting," Spitz said this spring while preparing to witness this year's attack on NCAA records.

Spitz's swimming-related involvement also includes a considerable time commitment to the promotional department of Arena Swim Wear, where, joined by other great swimmers and divers from the past two decades, he lends time and experience to the growth of competitive water sports in countries that do not have active programs.

Spitz journeyed abroad extensively even before he retired from competitive swimming and the swimmer-turned-businessman refuses to support the Olympic boycott by the United States. A member of two Olympic teams, he said the United States is overestimating the impact its absence will have.

"I won't disagree with any of the president's conclusions about national safety because I am not qualified to do so, but I believe I can say for certain that the Russians are not going to really give a hoot whether we show up or not." Spitz said. "Furthermore, the idea of moving the games is preposterous; even the cities which know years in advance barely meet preparation deadlines. Moving the Olympics is like moving the White House--it just is not something you do on short notice.

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