Krayzelburg, Lenny : Jews In Sports @ Virtual Museum

Krayzelburg, Lenny


Country Represented:
United States

Years Competed:
2000, 2004

Medals Received:

Olympic Info:
A fan favorite in swim-mad Australia at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, Krayzelburg competed in three events for the United States swimming team, and won three gold medals. In 2004 Lenny won another gold medal as part of the U.S 4X100 medley relay team, though he did not swim in the final.

In Sydney 2000, competing in the 100-meter backstroke, he captured the gold medal and smashed the Olympic record with a time of 53.72. The 24 year-old legend-in-the-making then broke the Olympic record in the 200-meter backstroke in the semifinals with a time of 1:57.27, though he was swimming easily. In the finals of the 200-meter backstroke, he took another gold medal, breaking the Olympic record again, this time with a mark of 1:56.76. Krayzelburg won his third gold medal in the 4x100-meter medley relay by swimming the opening (backstroke) leg in 53.87. The American team, following his pace, set the world record with a time of 3:33.73.

Krayzelburg qualified for the 2004 Olympics by finished second in the 100-meter backstroke at the U.S. Olympic Trials. He finished in a time of 54.06. Lenny entered his first swim on August 15, in the sixth heat of the 100-meter backstroke. He finished third in the heat, clocking in at 54.87 and thus qualifying for the semi-finals. Later that day, he competed in the second semi-final, as he came in second and improved his time to 54.63. Krayzelburg swam in lane six in the 100-meter backstroke final, held on August 16. The American swimmer came into the final with the fifth best result in qualification. In the final itself Lenny was a mere 2/100ths of a second away from a medal as he came in fourth in a 54.38 time. Krayzelburg was in action again on August 20, as he swam the opening leg for the men's 4X100 medley relay team. He had the best personal time of any opening leg in either heat (54.27) as the U.S.A qualified with the best time of any team (3:35.10). Lenny did not swim in the final, but was awarded a gold medal as the U.S.A took first place and smashed the world record.

Following the 2000 Olympic Games, Lenny decided to compete in the 2001 Maccabiah Games rather than at the World Championships. He said: "I have never been to Israel, and I really would like to go there and compete in the Maccabiah Games...It is a very important part of my heritage." Mark Spitz, who won five gold medals at the 1969 Maccabiah Games before swimming to seven golds at the 1972 Olympics in Munich, said of Lenny's decision, "I think it's terrific that Lenny is choosing to swim at the Maccabiah Games...I'd like to see Lenny break one or both of his world (100-meter and 200-meter backstroke) records in Israel. I don't believe a world swimming record has ever been broken at the (Maccabiah) Games."

While many athletes decided not to attend the Maccabiah Games due to the threat of violence, Lenny kept his pledge to skip the World Championships so that he could compete in Israel. When he arrived at Ben Gurion Airport, Lenny told the media: "I always wanted to take part in the Maccabiah Games. I think it goes way beyond just swimming. I knew if I was going to swim well at the Olympics there was no question about ... forgoing the world championships, because I felt this was an important meet for me."

On June 15, 2001, Lenny, who carried the American flag on behalf of the U.S. delegation, shattered the Maccabiah record in the 100-meter backstroke with a time of 55.24 (the old record was 58.08). Unfortunately, he injured his shoulder, and was unable to compete in either the 100-meter freestyle and 200-meter backstroke, both of which he was expected to dominate.

Career Highlights:
From the age of nine, Lenny trained, with 44 other aspiring swimmers at a sports school in the Ukraine, which instilled in him the discipline and work ethic that later would enable him to become a champion. His family emigrated to the United States in 1989 from the Ukraine because of anti-Semitism; Lenny was 13, in a strange country, with no English and no swimming pool. Since his high school in Fairfax, California, had no swim team, Lenny commuted to Santa Monica City College to swim; but the 50-minute trip each way drained his energy. He became so discouraged that he considered quitting; but his father encouraged him to "complete your journey," which is exactly what Lenny did.

Krayzelburg became an American citizen in 1995. He then won the gold medal in the 100-meter and 200-meter backstroke at the 1998 World Championships. In 1999, he broke the world records in the 100-meter, 200-meter, and 50-meter backstroke, and was voted the U.S. Swimmer of the Year.

After injuries hit Lenny in 2001, he returned to the pool in 2002 and had a successful season. At the end of the year, he was ranked No. 2 in the U.S. in the 200-meter backstroke (1:58.67) and No. 3 in the 100-meter backstroke (54.48). At the 2003 U.S. Open Swimming Championships, he won the 100-meter and finished second in the 200-meter backstroke.

Birth and Death Dates:
b. Sept. 28, 1975

Odessa, Ukraine

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Great Jews in Sports by Robert Slater (New York: Jonathan David Publishers, 2000)
Jewish Sports Review, September/October 2000 issue (Vol. 2, No. 8, Issue 21)