Mark Spitz, who earned an unprecedented seven gold medals in the 1973 Olympic Games in Munich, was vacationing in Hawaii recently - taking a breather after a yacht race. He was surrounded by the luxury made possible when he converted his Olympic gold into business contracts and endorsements worth $5 million.
As Spitz basked in tropical splendour, John Naber was quite possible helping his mother carry grocieries from her station wagon to their house in suburban Mento Park, Calif. After winning four gold medals and one silver last summer in Montreal, Naber answered the attention with a giggle and returned unceremoniously to school.
Financially, Naber is a pauper compared with Spitz. BUt his decision not turn professional after the Olympic won him the puclic affection Spitz couldn't beg, steal or buy.
The relationship between Spitz and Naber is complex.
In one breath, Naber says that, "The world does took at Mark as not all together upstairs. In my opinion, he's not excessively intelligents. He started to believe in his own publicity. I don't respect him much as a human being. I wouldn't want him to be my roommate."
In another breath Naber says, "I judge Mark on his mental strength. I probably would have blown a fuse afer the sixth gold medal I feel sorry about his reputation. I don't think he's rotten, a nurd or a klutz. He might be a little bit if an oversold commodity, but that was all he had to fall back on. I would hate to join the ranks of people putting down.
Mark, I like him as a person. i see through the medals."
Spitz says, "John Naber makes a lot of statements that don't make any sense."
Gary Hall, who swam with both of them, spoke of a still-existing disillusionment with Spitz within the swimming fraternity.
People resented Mark's attempt to make money," said Hall, now a fourth-year medical student to Cincinnati. "Endorsement are not looked upon as evil - it's how you do it. Mark came across (on hid numerous television appearances) as saying. "I deserve this, I won the world." He came across egotistical and he's really not that way.
"The mistake he made was turning his back on swimming. Mark just figured he'd make it without swimming.
"Every time I talk to him, he's interest in something else. He doesn't seem to have something from one day to the next to keep himself occupied. He's different inside. Three years ago, he told me he wanted to be a champion yachtman. Three weeks ago, he told me he just wanted to finish in the middle of the pack."
Resentment among swimmers was such that no one blinked when Naber corrected Spitz's pronunciation of Peter Rocca's name during all on-the-air interview at the Olympic trials.
"I regret I was part of that. It was mostly out of frustration," said Naber. "Frustration with what he could have been. He could have done so much to pump money back into the sport. He could have increased enrollment in YMCA programs, doubted money for the AAU. My peer group doesn't respect him because he didn't live up to the potential we thought he had.
"I feel I'm really loyal to the sport. Mark's primary priority is Mark. I hear he gets that from his father."
Spitz says critism doesn't bother him any more. But he disputed the more cutting accusations.
"I never turned my back on swimming." said Spitz. "With the endorsement and the attention I brought the sport, practically putting swimming on the map. I certainly gave everything back.
"I don't see that the people who say these things are doing anything better than I am. I don't see what great accomplishments they've done. To be frank, I think they're jealous."
When Spitz returned from the Olympics, he assigned seven major contracts that amounted to be a $5 million estate. His yearly income is estimated at $100,000. He has swum perhaps a dozen times since Munich.
His television commercials for hair dryers, shavers and milk are no longer seen, but Spitz says the door is not permanently closed on commercials, or even dramatic roles. Spitz is still under contract to the Elton Corp. in Rochester, N.Y., which manufacturers swim equipment, and to Adidas, which producers a line of swimwear Spitz endorses. Spitz also signed with ABC a year and will end a lengthy absence from television when he does color commentary on two AAU swim events this month.
In his newest venture, he has become a partner in a company that produces Hot Tennis, a game similar to badminton played with weighted birdies. He is involved in product design and promotion in all businesses, and travels extensively to meetings. He genuinely enjoys it and is good at it.
He and his wife, Suzy, have moved from their posh Marina Del Rey condominium to 3 house in West Los Angeles that does not have a swimming pool. He sold his sailboat because "I wasn't using it and it was too slow." Spitz still participates in some boat-racing as a crew that Trans-Pacific race, in which his boat finished in the middle of the pack. He also plays a little golf and loss to Suzy in tennis.
Spitz is writing his autobiography with writer-sportscaster Mickey Herkowitz, who says of the book, "It deals with how we make herbs and what happens to them. Mark was not prepared for what happened. He had lived his life in a bathtub. He suffered. Once you win seven gold medals in the most historic Olympics, where do you go? It's like walking on the moon."
Spitz's medals are locked in a bank vault.
Naber's medals are in a plastic bag in his mother's closet.The medals are hers now.
Naber lives with his parents in much the same way as before the Olympics. "I make my bed, clean my room and take the dishes to the sink," Naber said.
He has no regrets over his decision to turn down what would have been an immediate lucrative professional career to lead USC to the NCAA swim title, something Hall says was "trivial compared to the olympics."
Hall, a close friend of Spitz described the differences between the two swimmers.
"Mark's driving force was to be winner, achieve stardom and fame. His father was achieve stardom and frame. His father was very demanding. Fortune probably never entered his mind. Naber is into his religious convictions. At times he says he swims for Christ, John is an extremely unselfish person. He swims best in the team relay. Mark 90 per cent of the time would swim best individually.
"John didn't dislike losing as much as Mark did. On the day before Mark's final event, he said 'You know, I'd rather be 6-0 than 6-1. I'm not sure I want to swim the last one.' He wanted to be remembered for a long time for what he did.
"John could take a third or fourth or fifth and be just as happy. Even in '76, I could sense a feeling of Mark missing the spotlight. John doesn't need it as much. He'd be prefectly happy off strumming his guitar somewhere."
Naber has been doing just that. In addition, since graduating from USC in June, he has spoken at several swimming clinics around the country for a few hundred dollars a shot, has done a religioud talk show for free and continues to answer mail.
A swim-suit manufacturer wanted Naber to pose in a suit and his medals but he refused, partly because "it reminds me too much of Mark's poster."
His plans are to move to Southern California in September and share a two-bedroom apartment near the USC campus with three male friends. Each will chip in about $100 a month. There, Naber said, he would "love to sit by the phone and respond."
He wants to continue to give talks and clinics and is practically requesting the color job at the 1980 Olympics. He also has spoken with people at Disney Enterprises about a job as a marketing executive in the public relations departments, "the thought people behind Disneyland."
His location, Naber points out, will also enable him to have his teeth capped at a discount by USC's dental school, and "They show movie on campus for a dollar. You can't beat it."
Spitz says he is "very happy" with his life.
Asked for his feelings on his Olympic experience, however, he said, "I think it's one I might not go through again."
That answer is disputed by his father, Norman Spitz, who many says the one who pulled Mark's strings. He remains something of a mysterious figure and has always shied from interviews.
But a statement made by the senoir Spitz in 1972 can perhaps be better understood now.
"Because of what I've given of myself, this is what I've created," Norman Spitz was quoted as saying of his son. "He's a gorgeous human being, a tremendous person.
"You think I created a monster? He's beautiful. He's exceptional. Now he is being taken over by himself - and other people. If your children are never really outstanding, you can say you get some of the same satisfaction from them. I guess, but you don't believe it. Swimming isn't everything. Winning is.
"If people don't like it, the hell with 'em. You have only a few years to give. Now, in Mark's case, it'spassed. He won't come home any more.