Mike Burton (USA)
Honor Swimmer (1977)
FOR THE RECORD: OLYMPIC GAMES: 1968 gold (400m, 1500m freestyle); 1972 gold (1500m freestyle); WORLD RECORDS: 7; PAN AMERICAN GAMES: 1 gold; AMERICAN RECORDS: 16; NATIONAL AAU CHAMPIONSHIPS: 10; NCAA Titles: 5; 1968 “Swimmer of the Year”; First person in Olympic history to win the 1500m freestyle in two Olympics; first man to break 16 minutes for the 1650yd freestyle; First to swim the 800m freestyle below 8:30.
Mike Burton was finished as an athlete at 13 because he tackled a truck with his bicycle. Swimming was all he could do after that and he made the most of his opportunities. At 5’9″, 165 lbs., it was still bicycle versus truck. From September, 1960 to August, 1969, he improved the 1500m record 4 times from 16:41.6 to 16:08.5 and twice set 800m records on the way. “Mr. Machine or perpetual motion”, Burton set examples of hard work hitherto unheard of in practice and specialized in winning meets when he was sick (stomach trouble in World Students Games & Montezuma’s revenge in the Olympics). If Spitz’s 7 gold medals was the greatest performance in Olympic history, Burton’s comeback win in World Record time was the greatest single performance of the 1972 Olympic Games. Married, working and without sufficient training time, he qualified 8th to make the finals at the Olympic Trials, finished 3rd to make the team, and then won the Olympic Games.