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09 Oct 2014
Sydney 2000

Clean-sweeping Krayzelburg is backstroke king

Few Olympic athletes can match the record of Lenny Krayzelburg in Sydney: three events entered, three gold medals won. In the process he underlined his status as the undisputed star of backstroke.

Krayzelburg had grown up in the Ukrainian city of Odessa, but had emigrated with his family to the USA when he was 13. The family's early years in America were marked by financial difficulties and the teenager took a job as a lifeguard to boost the family income. He also had to learn to speak English in order to understand what his new swimming coaches were saying, but fortunately he turned out to be an able linguist.

His coaches at college were quick to recognise his talent. He went on to win college titles and was offered a place at University of Southern California, which was renowned for its swimming programme.

Krayzelburg became an American citizen and, buoyed and inspired by his new coaches, he won a clean sweep of the backstroke titles at the 1998 World Championships.

The following year was, if anything, even more extraordinary. He broke the backstroke world record at 50m, 100m and 200m, stunning the world and leading him to be heralded as one of the sport's greatest backstrokers. And all this before he had even made his Olympic debut.

In Sydney, he was pushed rather harder than most people expected. In his first race, the 100m, Australia’s Matt Welsh, roared on by the home crowd, pushed him to the very end, but Krayzelburg touched the wall 0.35 seconds ahead, and setting a new Olympic record.

Next up was the 200m, in which Krayzelburg was up against team-mate Aaron Peirsol, who had beaten him in the American trials. This time, however, it was Krayzelburg who prevailed, as he doubled his gold medal tally and set another Olympic record.

His third tilt at a medal came in the 4x100m medley relay. Krayzelburg set the US team on their way with a strong first leg, and then saw his three team-mates put in strong swims to ensure that the USA finished 1.44 seconds clear of Australia, recording a new world record.

Krayzelburg won another gold medal four years later as part of the relay team that retained its title. After retiring from competitive swimming he set up his own swimming academy.

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