Tales from Past and Present: IU’s Olympic Swimming History

The Indiana University Archives would like to congratulate IU swimmers Cody Miller (’14) (USA), Blake Pieroni (USA), Lilly King (USA), Kennedy Goss (Canada)Ali Khalafalla (Egypt), Anze Tavcar (Slovenia), and incoming-transfer Marwan El Kamash (Egypt) as well as divers Amy Cozad (’13) (USA), Michael Hixon (USA), Jessica Parratto (USA), and James Conner (Australia) for earning a spot on their respective country’s Olympic swimming and diving teams! In honor of the 2016 US Summer Olympic Games, the Archives would like to take our readers back in time and recount just a little of IU’s Olympic swimming history.

IU’s Most Successful Swimmer: Mark Spitz

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Mark Spitz during the 1972 Olympic Games

One cannot possibly talk about IU’s Olympic swimming history without first mentioning Mark Spitz!

Mark Andrew Spitz (born on February 10, 1950 in Modesto, California) first gained fame at the 1968 Summer Olympic Games in Mexico City, where he earned four medals: two gold, one silver, and one bronze. He swam for Indiana University from 1968 to 1972 where he trained with the legendary James “Doc” Counsilman. While at IU Spitz went on to win eight individual NCAA titles and contributed to four school NCAA Championships, completely rewriting IU, Big Ten, and NCAA record books in the process. By the spring of 1972, Spitz had set 23 world swimming records and 35 United States records.

In the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, Spitz attained the world record for most gold medals received by any Olympic athlete by winning 7 gold medals, ousting the current record holder at the time (Italian fencer Nedo Nadi who received five Olympic medals during the 1920 games) and earning himself a place in Olympic history. To date, his achievement has only been surpassed by Michael Phelps, who won eight gold medals at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. However, Spitz also set new world records in all seven events in which he competed in 1972, an achievement which still stands. 

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Mark Spitz at IU

Those Who Didn’t Get to Compete: the 1980 Summer Olympics

Cynthia Potter
Cynthia Potter from 1976 Olympics

IU has had a long history of producing Olympic swimmers, but not all of them got to live out the dream to its fullest extent. In the summer of 1980 IU had three swimmers who were awarded the highest honor an athlete could imagine: a chance to represent the United States in the Olympic Games. Soon Amy McGrath, Cynthia Potter, and Brian Bungum would be on their way to Soviet Russia to compete in Moscow. It was the culmination of countless hours of training and years of dedication to their sport. Cynthia was the veteran of the group, having already won a bronze in the 1976 Olympics. For first-timers Amy McGrath and Brian Bungum, it was the realization of a dream. However, it was not meant to be.

On Christmas Day 1979, Soviet tanks rolled into Afghanistan under the pretext of upholding the Soviet-Afghan Friendship Treaty of 1978. Upon their arrival in Kabul, the Soviet troops staged a coup, killing the Afghan President Hafizullah Amin. By December 27th they had installed a socialist, Babrak Karmal, as the new leader of the Afghan government.

The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan spurred President Jimmy Carter to issue an ultimatum in January of 1980 stating that if Soviet troops did not withdraw from Afghanistan the United States would boycott the Summer Moscow Olympics. His warnings went unheeded and the US, along with 65 other countries, refused to compete that summer. Sadly, we will never know what Cynthia, Amy, and Brian could have contributed to the athletic world that year.

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Left: Amy McGrath with her diving coach Hobie Billingsley Right: Brian Bungum

Present Day: the Hoosiers’ 11 and Rio 2016

The 2016 Rio Summer Olympics began this past Friday and will end with the closing ceremony on Sunday August 21st. These 11 swimmers (now dubbed the Hoosiers’ 11) will be joined by IU’s head diving coach Drew Johansen and head swimming coach Ray Looze who will act as Team USA’s head diving coach and assistant women’s swimming coach respectively. We are so proud of Hoosier swimmers Lilly King, Blake Pieroni, and Cody Miller who have all already won Olympic medals in the 2016 games! King and Blake will bring home golds (King decided to break a record while she was at it) and Miller has earned a bronze! We are excited to watch the Hoosiers’ 11 as they continue this month and hope to see more podium appearances!

Go Big Red!