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    Monday, August 11, 2008

    Olympics Day 3 - Honorary Masslete - Jason Lezak

    Jason Lezak hails from Irvine, CA, which is just about as far away from MA as you could possibly get, but he is an honorary Masslete for his performance in the 4x100 relay that kept Michael Phelps' hopes of 8 golds alive and beat out the pesky French, who were talking smack before the race, by .8 of a second. So Mr. Lezak, you are an honorary Masslete for the day...

    Taking back the title
    Jason Lezak qualified for his third Olympics by finishing second in the 100m freestyle at Olympic Trials. Lezak set the American record in the event in semifinals, and his time of 47.58 sets him up as the likely anchor of the 4x100m free relay in Beijing. Lezak was a member of the first U.S. team to lose that race at the Olympics, falling to Australia in 2000, and again when the U.S. lost to South Africa in 2004. This time, the U.S. will be up against France as the top contender, led by world-record holder Alain Bernard.

    Late bloomer
    Lezak did not become an elite sprinting swimmer until he was 25. Now 32, he is trying to qualify for his third Olympics. Lezak won the 100m at the 2004 U.S. Trials, breaking the American record in the semifinals and posting the third-fastest time in history. He later finished as the runner-up in the 50m free to earn a second spot in Athens. Lezak, along with teammate Ian Crocker, failed to make it out of the preliminaries in the 100m free in Athens and finished fifth in the 50m free. Lezak won Olympic gold in the 4x100m medley relay and a bronze in the 4x100m free relay. Lezak also won two medals at the 2000 Sydney Games: a silver in the 4x100m freestyle relay and a gold for his prelims swim in the 4x100m medley relay.

    Alone in the pool
    Lezak is one of very few elite swimmers to train without a coach. He attributes his ability to coach himself to his many years with Dave Salo at Irvine Novaquatics. Lezak says he is able to make adjustments immediately based on how he feels in the pool, which is something coaches can't always do. Lezak says he has no problem motivating himself without someone yelling at him from the pool deck.

    On Trials
    At the 2004 Trials, Lezak was involved in a much publicized trash-talking bout with eight-time Olympic medalist Gary Hall Jr. Before their matchup in the 100m free, Hall called Lezak a "professional relay swimmer." Lezak didn't have much of a response, choosing to see what happened in the pool. In the semifinals, Lezak broke the American record (previously set by Anthony Ervin in 2001), posting a time of 48.17 -- the third-fastest of all time. Only 2000 and 2004 Olympic gold medalist Pieter van den Hoogenband had gone faster. In the final, Lezak won in 48.41 seconds, ahead of runner-up Ian Crocker and Hall, who had a terrible start and finished third. After the final, the two men shook hands in the pool. Hall, who later indicated that most of the trash talk had been for publicity's sake, got a bit of revenge two days later when he beat Lezak to the wall in the 50m free, then in Athens when Hall won the gold in the 50m free.

    Lezak began to emerge as the top American sprinter when he won the 50m and 100m freestyles at the 2002 Summer Nationals in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. He continued his strong swimming at the Pan Pacific Championships a week later, winning the 50m free and anchoring the U.S. 4x100m medley relay to a world record. That record fell one year later at the 2003 World Championships, when Lezak anchored another winning medley. Also at that meet, Lezak added a silver medal in the 4x100m free relay.

    What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas
    At age 5, Lezak joined the Irvine Novaquatics swim team and has never left. He first qualified for Nationals his senior year of high school but decided to go water skiing and gambling near Las Vegas with friends instead. That was something he used to do at least four times a year, or as much as his wallet would allow. Lezak said in 2004 that Vegas is fun when you're young, but as you get older you realize that "Vegas is bad news."

    Olympic wedding
    Lezak graduated from the University of California-Santa Barbara in 1999 with a degree in business/economics. He married Danielle DeAlva, who represented Mexico in Athens, in April 2004. The couple went to high school together and both train in Irvine.

    Sorry, coach
    A 1994 high school All-American in water polo, Lezak chose to concentrate on swimming despite the requests of the UCSB water polo coach. Lezak also played basketball until the 10th grade, as well as baseball and soccer while growing up. He says the other sports were relief from swimming and prevented him from getting burned out. Lezak's younger sister Erin also graduated from UCSB and played water polo.

    Info courtesy of

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