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21 Oct 1968
Mexico 1968

Spitz settles for second in first ever 100m butterfly final

Relive the thrilling battle for gold in the first ever men’s Olympic 100m butterfly final, at Mexico City 1968, where American swimming legend Mark Spitz was beaten to the touch by compatriot Doug Russell.

The men’s 100m butterfly first featured on the Olympic programme at Mexico City 1968, and the event’s inaugural final will long be remembered for the titanic duel it produced between two great American swimmers.

Lining up in Lane 1 was Mark Spitz, the firm favourite for gold and the world record holder in the event, having swum 55.6 at the US trials in Long Beach two months earlier. Aged 18 at the time, Spitz was already sporting his trademark moustache and was well on the way to swimming stardom.

The Californian teenager had arrived at the Games with the intention of winning six gold medals, though his quest came unstuck when he had to settle for bronze in the 100m freestyle final two days earlier, as the title went to Australia’s Mike Wenden.

Alongside him in Lane 2 was countryman Doug Russell. Four years his senior, Russell was a medley specialist who had never beaten Spitz over 100m.

The American duo quickly pulled away from the rest of the field, with Spitz turning first in a time of 26.1. The 4,500-strong crowd were on their feet as Russell closed down on, and then overtook, his team-mate in the final 20 metres, before touching home in a time of 55.9, half a second faster than Spitz. Ross Wales came in third in 57.2 to complete an American clean sweep of the podium.
Spitz eventually made it to the top of the podium in Mexico City, winning gold medals in the 4x100m and 4x200m freestyle relays, while Russell won another gold of his own, swimming the butterfly leg in the medley relay victory.

Mexico City 1968 was only the start for the voracious Spitz. Four years later in Munich, he claimed gold in each of the seven events in which he took part, winning the 100m butterfly in a world record time of 54.27 that stood for five years. His stunning performance would not be bettered until Beijing 2008, when fellow American Michael Phelps walked away with eight gold medals.

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