Sunday, August 17, 2008
Congrats to Phelps, but Lezak is my Hero!
Super-kudos to Michael Phelps on his astounding accomplishment of eight golds in Beijing. The athletic range he demonstrated between a race like the 400 individual medley, which for non-competitive swimmers may need some explanation, as a hideous gut-buster--as Rowdy Gaines appropriately called it, the decathlon of swimming but all at the same time, that is consecutively, with zero rest--and the 100 fly, a dead sprint--defies description.
A few years back, I had a little cardiac blip (okay, more than a blip) after a rec league basketball game. In my ensuing recovery and reclamation of my identity as an athlete, I returned to my roots in competitive swimming. Once upon a time, I was a freestyle sprinter. Despite some misgivings expressed by my cardiologist (but not by my internist-slash-g.p., a compulsive runner) I have returned to competition as a Masters swimmer. I train alone, and I am quite healthy, even robust. I am so happy to be back in the water! I was never an elite swimmer, and never will be. But I don't suck. And unlike most people, I look forward to turning 50, because I will "age up" as a swimmer.
As amazing as Phelps' accomplishment is--and it is truly amazing, equal to the hype, and more, given the range of events he swims--I find myself identifying with Jason Lezak [far right, above} the freestyle sprinter who swam the anchor leg on the 4x100 freestyle relay, and turned in the most jaw-dropping adrenaline-soaked performance in history to catch and defeat the reigning world record-holder Alain Bernard, the trash-talking Frenchman who went on to win the gold in the 100 meters. Like me, Lezak trains alone. Long the reigning American sprinter, he had labored under the reputation of an under-performing Olympian. This week in addition to his mind-exploding anchor leg on the 4x100 and his successful final leg on the 4x100 medley relay, he finally won an individual medal, a bronze, in the 100 meter freestyle. Bernard, the guy he caught and overcame in the 4 x 100, took the gold.
Tonight, as the world toasts Michael Phelps, I offer a toast to ancient old Jason Lezak (32), who will live forever as the man who chased down Bernard with a 46 flat. (And a secondary toast to Brendan Hansen, the maligned breastroker who surrendered his world record to the Japanese triumphalist Katijima yet delivered the goods in today's medley final [far left]). May God bless all four of them==Piersol, Hansen, Phelps, Lezak--with happy days ahead. Congratulations, from the bottom of my heart.