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Mark Spitz surfaces, praises Michael Phelps

August 15, 2008 | 11:20 pm

Mark Spitz at the Olympic Pool in Munich, West Germany

BEIJING -- There were rumors that Mark Spitz was in Beijing, rumors that he was in Hong Kong, rumors that he was at home in Southern California.

Turns out he was in Detroit, watching his son play in a basketball tournament.

The Associated Press reached him after the thrilling 100-meter butterfly final Saturday. Michael Phelps won to equal Spitz's record of seven gold medals in a single Olympics. Spitz did it in swimming during the 1972 Games.

"Epic,'' Spitz told the AP of Phelps' performances here. "He's the greatest racer who ever walked the planet.''

Michael Phelps (R) and Serbia-Montenegro's Milorad Cavic touching the blocks

Via NBC, Spitz told Phelps: "I wondered what I was going to say at this monumental time when it would happen and who I would say it to, and, of course, I thought I was going to say it to you for some time now. The word comes to mind: epic. What you did tonight was epic.

"I never thought for one moment you were out of that race. You represent such an inspiration to youngsters around the world.''

Phelps told NBC's Bob Costas: "As soon as I took the last half stroke, to be honest, I thought I had lost the race. And that was the difference, cause if I would have glided then I would have come up short. I've been lucky enough over the last four years to have two pretty good finishes in Olympic finals. I guess I'm blessed.''

In Athens four years ago in the same event, the 100 butterfly, Phelps was trailing U.S. teammate Ian Crocker until the final stroke. Phelps won that one by four-hundredths of a second, a breeze compared to his .01-second victory Saturday over Milo Cavic.

-- Randy Harvey

Top: an AP file photo from August 1972 of Mark Spitz at the Olympic Pool in Munich, West Germany. Middle: Photo of Michael Phelps (R) and Serbia-Montenegro's Milorad Cavic touching the blocks by Michael Kappeler/AFP/Getty Images

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