Mark Spitz had one word for the performance that gave Michael Phelps his seventh gold medal of the Beijing Games and equaled his own Olympic record that had stood for 36 years. "Epic," Spitz said on Saturday morning when reached by The Associated Press in Detroit, where his youngest son was playing in a basketball tournament.
Moments earlier, Phelps came from behind to win the 100-meter butterfly, edging Croatia's Milorad Cavic by a hundredth of a second.
"It goes to show you that not only is this guy the greatest swimmer of all time and the greatest Olympian of all time, he's maybe the greatest athlete of all time," Spitz said. "He's the greatest racer who ever walked the planet."
With the victory, the 23-year-old from Baltimore pulled even with Spitz's seven-gold haul at the 1972 Munich Games. Phelps can break the record in his final race on Sunday, the 400 medley relay. Spitz sounded almost giddy on the other end of the phone line. "I'm ecstatic," he said. "I always wondered what my feelings would be. I feel a tremendous load off my back. Somebody told me years ago you judge one's character by the company you keep, and I'm just happy to be in the company of Michael Phelps. That's the bottom line."
"I'm so proud of what he's been able to do," Spitz added. "I did what I did and it was in my day in those set of circumstances. For 36 years it stood as a benchmark. I'm just pleased that somebody was inspired by what I had done. He's entitled to every second of what's occurring to him now."
Spitz said he had considered it a "foregone conclusion" that Phelps would equal his record, especially since he won six golds at the 2004 Athens Olympics.
And now he fully expects Phelps to make it 8-for-8 on Sunday with a win in the relay.
"The Americans have never lost that race since it's been an event in the Olympic Games," Spitz said. "You have to be very cautious on the relay exchanges and make sure nobody gets disqualified, but it should be just a matter of what the time is going to be and who's going to put the gold medal around their neck first."