Olympic Swimmer Mark Spitz on Michael Phelps' "Quite Incredible" Accomplishments

Season 6 Episode 616
CC | tv-14
With seven gold medals, Mark Spitz held the record for most wins in a single Olympic game. Thirty-six years later, at the Beijing Summer Olympic Games, Michael Phelps broke the record when he took home eight.

For Mark, Michael breaking his record helped put his own greatness into context. "I never realized my greatness until Michael Phelps broke my record," Mark tells Oprah: Where Are They Now? "What I had done, I always believed was a matter of measure which somebody else would judge themselves by, and yet this person not even born who then discovered that that's what they wanted to do, and what greater accolade could I have left on my sport than to have somebody else break my record. I relish the fact that I was alive when that happened."

Mark goes on to explain how Michael's accomplishments amaze him. "I'd be remiss if I actually didn't tell you how great Michael is," Mark says. "So, right now, before he goes to the Olympic Games in Rio, he has double everything I have. The first Olympic Games he was in he didn't get any medal, so he did all of that—doubling what i did—in just one extra Olympic Games, and that's quite incredible to be honest with you." Recently, for Oprah: Where Are They Now?, the living legend shared how a few words from track star Jesse Owens sent him down his record-breaking path. As Carl tells it, Jesse, who had four Olympic gold medals to his name, came to speak at a track meet. He told stories about how "this funky little kid found so much success."

Later, with Jesse's words echoing in his head, Carl tried to break his idol's record at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. Carl broke it—and then some. Jesse, who had held the record for decades, was also the person who inspired Carl to surpass him.

"When you meet someone like that, you admire them your whole life," Jesse says, "and then when I decided to try, people said, 'You can't do it. You can't do it.' I just felt that spirit I got to try it."

Additionally, Carl was moved by Jesse's stories of overcoming racial prejudice. "When Jesse talked about going to Berlin and having to go up the service elevator because of the color of his skin. All of those things, it inspired me to not be afraid to try."

Tune in Sunday, July 24, at 10/9c for the Oprah: Where Are They Now? special "Olympic Legends."