Posted: Jul 27, 2012 1:24 PM by Stan Parker - MTN News
Updated: Jul 27, 2012 1:36 PM
BILLINGS- As attention turns towards London for the 2012 Summer Olympic Games, one Billings resident is reminded of his own Olympic achievements four decades ago.
Mike Burton competed in the 1968 Mexico City games and then returned as captain of his swimming team for the famous 1972 Olympiad in Munich.
Three gold medals in all, Burton took first place in the 400-meter and 1500-meter freestyle at the '68 games.
He then returned in '72 to become the only American in history to grab two consecutive Olympic golds in the 1500-meter free. He also squeaked out a world record in the process.
He attributes his success to his diligent training, and to the privilege of being able to train with an outstanding group of athletes.
For those who remember the 1972 games, they go down in history as an emotional roller coaster.
The Munich massacre cast a dark shadow over the games, when Palestinian terrorists kidnapped and eventually murdered members of the Israeli contingent.
But Burton's athletic drama all unfolded the night before the tragedy happened. His achievements were made notable by the fact that nobody expected him to medal.
At 25, he was considered old for a swimmer in the days when athletes were strictly amateurs. And after being diagnosed with a vitamin deficiency, he barely qualified at all for the games.
But come race day, he got off to an early lead. He then fell out of the top spot, but with about 300 meters to go, he returned to the front of the pack and finished first.
We asked him if he knew he had won as soon as he hit the wall.
"Absolutely," he said with a smile. "As soon as I hit the wall, I turned and looked at the scoreboard, saw my time, saw that it was a world record -- only by three-tenths of a second."
When he saw his coach, he cried in joy and exhaustion, the perfect close to an outstanding career.
"For me, it was a final great swim," he said. "It's a very special race, a special medal for me."