As much as he feels different, he appreciates the change will be even greater among his opponents. Once, he wore the arrogance of a champion as casually as a wristwatch and it kept other swimmers at a respectful distance, both on land and in the water.
"When you are the best, when you hold the world record," he said, "a lot of people play dead, compete for second place. There is a psychological barrier. The last six years of my career built on that. Now it's a different story."
Now he's not only an underdog but an old dog. Spitz said he's enjoying the challenge, that the excitement is growing within him, that it's about time he took the next step. "It's hard to train in limbo," he said. Now he has two races to spur him and an offer of a third in the Canary Islands following a scheduled trip to Germany with filmmaker Bud Greenspan for a retrospective on Munich '72.
Although he continues to reach for the gold, Spitz has crafted a new definition of success. "If I can be better than I was at 22, I still may not be in contention to win," he said. "But as corny as it may sound, it will live up to the Olympic spirit: faster, higher, stronger."