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Krayzelburg begins Olympic medal quest

AP Sports Writer
September 16, 2000

SYDNEY, Australia (AP) -- Lenny Krayzelburg's Olympic journey is an upside down trip at the Sydney Aquatic Center, his body riding part of the time under the water and part of the time on top of it, his arms churning backward to help him go forward.

Krayzelburg is the best backstroker in the world, a swimmer who travels from one end of the pool to the other face up instead of face down. He holds world records at both 100 and 200 meters and tries to get through the water by creating as little drag as possible, reducing the resistance to increase the speed.

Underwater on the turns, his hyperextended elbows pull the water past him faster with every stroke. Above it, he sits high, chest almost out of the water, hips almost on top of it. He squeezes every ounce of speed out of every stroke.

In 1998, Krayzelburg became the first swimmer to sweep the backstrokes in world championships or Olympic competition since 1986. He set his world records of 1:55.87 for the 200 and 53.60 for the 100 four days apart at the Pan Pacific Games a year ago and last month broke the American record for the 100 for the fifth time since 1997. He will swim both his specialties as well as the 400 medley relay at Sydney.

Krayzelburg's bid for three gold medals begins with the 100-meter backstroke, part of a full night of swimming on NBC Monday night. Also scheduled are Australian teen sensation Ian Thorpe in the men's 200-meter freestyle, the women's 100 backstroke and the women's 100 breastroke. The network also has coverage of the men's team final in gymnastics, rowing with the men's and women's eights and three-day team cross country equestrian.

Earlier in the day, there will be water polo between the United States women and Russia. The network's late-night schedule has volleyball with the U.S. women vs. Kenya, and the whitewater canoeing final. On cable, MSNBC has all-day coverage of the U.S. women against Cuba in both basketball and softball as well as rowing. CBNBC will show boxing and the women's weightlifting finals.

Rowdy Gaines, a triple gold medalist in the 1984 games and broadcasting swimming for NBC, admires Krayzelburg's abilities.

``He's got an incredible feel for the water,'' Gaines said. ``He's the best in the world off the start and the turns. There's nobody better technique-wise. He has so many strengths. He can turn to one or another in dire straits. That's what makes him special. That's what makes the great ones special.''

Krayzelburg began swimming in the Ukraine, where he grew up. He was 14 in 1989 when his father, seeking greater opportunities for his children, moved the family to the United States. However, he has never forgotten his roots.

``I consider what I learned in Russia, particularly the work ethic and dedication, is a big part of my career,'' Krayzelburg said. ``Obviously my parents thought coming to the United States would give me a better opportunity to be in swimming and have a better life.''

He went from a local pool where he worked as a life guard to swimming for a junior college in Santa Monica, Calif., and then to USC. There, coach Mark Schubert, who is also the U.S. Olympic men's coach, noticed his ability in the pool against the other backstrokers.

``He would stay with them literally until he couldn't swim anymore, until I had to tell him to stop and get out,'' Schubert said. ``That kind of told me something about his work ethic. About halfway through the summer, I said, `You can be the best in the world if you want to be.' The best part was, he believed me.''

Now, Krayzelburg is poised to prove it on the ultimate world stage of the Olympics.

His parents are in Sydney to see him swim and he remains devoted to them for the opportunities they gave him by moving to America.

``They made a big step and really a life change,'' he said. ``I think it would be nice to pay them back by winning a couple of medals.''

Article originally located at Yahoo! News

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