RIO DE JANEIROCopyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
(AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
Ken Walsh once beat Mark Spitz at the Olympics.
Now, he's bringing Michael Phelps and the sport of swimming to millions of Americans.
The 71-year-old Walsh is a cameraman for NBC's coverage at the Olympic Aquatic Center, sitting in a perch right above the middle of the pool in Rio.
"It's still special. Being at the Olympics, it's like you're at the pinnacle of your profession," Walsh said. "I've done it in swimming, and now I'm doing it as professional camera operator. It's really very cool."
Walsh was once one of America's top swimmers, setting three world records and winning two relay gold medals at the 1968 Mexico City Games.
But perhaps his biggest claim to fame came in a race he didn't win at those Olympics: the 100-meter freestyle. Walsh finished behind gold medalist Michael Wenden of Australia but beat out Spitz for silver by two-tenths of a second.
"I had him mentally all the way," Walsh said. "The 100 is a rat race. There's eight guys in the world who can win the race. So you've got to have a little something (extra). I had him. I was in his head."
Walsh wanted to keep swimming through the 1972 Olympics, but he couldn't find a sponsor. It was in Munich, of course, where Spitz won seven gold medals _ a mark that stood until Phelps captured eight at the 2008 Beijing Games.
After holding down a variety of jobs and going through a divorce, Walsh moved to Hawaii.
It was a bit of a fluke that he got into television.
Through a friend, Walsh drove a forklift at the Hawaiian Open golf tournament, hauling a camera platform around the back nine. That sparked his interest in a new career. He wound up working at an NBC affiliate for 20 years, and also got into sports coverage.
Golf is his favorite sport from behind the camera, and also the most difficult.
"Following a golf ball is the hardest thing to do in sports television," Walsh said.
Beginning with Barcelona in 1992, he's covered every Summer Games. At all but one of those, he worked a camera at the swimming competition, giving viewers a first-hand look at the greatness of Phelps.
Even when assigned to water polo in 2012, Walsh managed to make it to the main pool right next door to see all of Phelps' finals.
Phelps went into the final night of swimming Saturday with a staggering 22 career gold medals in what he said would be the final race of his career, the 4x100 medley relay.
Walsh was ready to document it for the world again.