Given how competitive track is, with athletes from both the developing and developed nations vying for medals and income generated from competitions and sponsorship, today it is even more difficult for Australians to win global medals of any colour.
Mark Spitz grew a moustache before the 1972 Olympics because his coach didn’t think he could grow one.
In an age where swimmers were shaving every possible skerrick of body hair, the moustache became a trademark. The American looked like a character out of a bad 70s TV show but he swam like a superstar.
He was a little arrogant in some people’s eyes, especially after he predicted he’d win six gold medals at the 1968 Games. He managed two. While he didn’t meet his own expectations, Spitz used the next four years to become unbeatable.
His achievements at Munich in 1972 were so incredible that swimmers around the world started to adopt the moustache for themselves after a throwaway line from Spitz that it helped his speed through the water.
At Munich he claimed his goal of six gold medals at one Olympics. He added one for good measure to make it seven. All gold medals came in world record time including the relatively new stroke of butterfly.
In a BBC interview Spitz said after the first few gold medals he felt unbeatable, apart from the 100 metre feestyle.
“Everything else sort of fit into place,” Spitz said.
“It wasn’t that difficult. Matter of fact, it was relatively easy.”
Spitz’ philosophy in his swimming was that in training it was 80 per cent physical and 20 per cent mental but by the time competition came around the actual race was the opposite. He prided himself on being mentally stronger than any other swimmer on the day, which was exemplified when he defeated Australian Michael Wenden in the 100 metres final.
Wenden had defeated Spitz in the heat and the semi-final and Spitz admitted he considered pulling out of the 100 metres for fear of his achievements being overshadowed by a bad race.
“I was extremely scared of his (Wenden’s) speed,” Spitz said.
“It made more sense to get six gold medals out of six tries than, all of a sudden, a third, a fourth or maybe not even medal in the 100 freestyle.”
Spitz’ coach persuaded him to keep swimming the 100 metre freestyle as it was considered the premier race.
He won by half a metre, stopping the clock in 51.22 seconds to set the world record.
He remains one of just five Olympians to have won nine or more gold medals in his career.
After achieving so much at Munich, Spitz decided to retire at the age of 22. Remarkably he came out of retirement at 41 to see if he could qualify for the Barcelona Olympics in 1992. He failed to qualify but some of his times were better than what he had set in the peak of his career.
Be sure to follow The Roar as we look back on some of the most memorable moments in Olympic history – be they weird and wacky or brilliant and significant – and count down the days until the Rio Olympics opening ceremony.
The Roar’s countdown to the Rio Olympics
50 days to go: Australia’s first Olympian, Edwin Flack
49 days to go: Brazil capitulate at the 2012 Olympics
48 days to go: Blood in the water during the 1956 Melbourne Olympics
47 days to go: Daniel Carroll, the man who won rugby gold with Australia and America
46 days to go: Margaret Abbott – the golfer who didn’t know she had won gold
45 days to go: Where did all the amateurs go?
44 days to go: Australia’s oarsome foursome
43 days to go: When Korea stood as one
42 Days to go: Oscar Swahn, the oldest Olympian
41 days to go: Edith Bosch – the Olympian not known for her medals
40 days to go: Jane Saville’s heartbreaking Sydney Olympics
39 days to go: Herb Elliot dominates in Rome 1960
38 days to go: Teofilo Stevenson, the boxer who might have beaten Ali
37 days to go: Betty Cuthbert steals the show in Melbourne
36 days to go: Jesse Owens’ heroic performance in Berlin
35 days to go: Eric the Eel steals Sydney’s heart
34 days to go: What happened to Cassius Clay’s gold medal?
33 days to go: Australia’s equestrian brilliance at Barcelona
32 days to go: The Olympic sports which are no longer with us
31 days to go: Debbie Flintoff-King wins on the line
30 days to go: The dominance of basketball’s Dream Team
29 days to go: Nadia Comenaci scores gymnastics’ first-ever perfect score
28 days to go: The man who stopped for a duck
27 days to go: The upset of the Sydney Olympics
26 days to go: Murray Rose’s scintilating Melbourne performance
25 days to go: Greg Louganis’ heroic comeback win
24 days to go: Fencing turns to duelling in Paris
23 days to go: Dawn Fraser’s flag-stealing shenanigans
22 days to go: The most prolific Olympic competitor
21 days to go: Duncan Armstrong’s underdog win in Seoul
20 days to go: Johnny Weissmuller: A brilliant swimmer and Hollywood actor
19 days to go: Majorie Jackson – the Lithgow Flash
18 days to go: Larisa Latynina, the most successful female Olympian
17 days to go: Dimitrios Loundras, the child who won an Olympic medal
16 days to go: Roy Jones Jr is robbed of an Olympic gold
15 days to go: Shane Gould’s superstar performance in Munich
14 days to go: The Kookaburras finally fly to the top of the world
13 days to go: Matthew Mitcham’s historic dive
12 days to go: Even Olympians are prone to the odd fail
11 days to go: Abebe Bikila wins the Olympic marathon running in bare feet
10 days to go: Track cycling’s greatest rivalry
9 days to go: Kieran Perkins’ gold medal from lane eight
8 days to go: Sally Pearson’s awesome run in London
7 days to go: Mark Spitz’ perfect seven gold medals in ’72
6 days to go: Usain Bolt torches the field in Beijing
5 days to go: Michael Klim and Ian Thorpe help smash America’s 4x100m world record like a guitar
4 days to go: Tommie Smith and John Carlos’ defiant black power salute
3 days to go: Michael Phelps – the best to ever grace the Olympics
2 days to go: Cathy Freeman delivers with the weight of a country on her back
1 day to go: Ian Thorpe – Australia’s finest Olympian