Before Michael Phelps shattered his record in Beijing in 2008, Mark Spitz was famed for being the most-awarded gold medalist in a single Olympics. The feat came 36 years earlier in Munich, when Spitz brought home seven golds – in four individual and three group events. Indeed, the only color he saw in the 1972 games was the beaming gold, but his wins came not without a cockiness complication four years earlier: in 1968, he boasted he’d win six golds, one for each event he was to swim in. Embarrassment ensued when he won only two – in team events, no less.
But with a quiet confidence about him four years later, And his pile of medals at the 1972 Olympics vaulted him to TIME cover status. Inside, TIME reported on Spitz’s truly Olympic feat and reflected on his legacy; Spitz, after all, would retire after the games at the age of 22. TIME wrote:
His battle is ended, his booty won; Spitz will swim no more. What, after all, is left for him to conquer? His feat will likely never be repeated; a move is already under way way…to cut down on the number of swimming events (and thus medals) on the theory that the skills required are repetitive.