A Chat With Lenny Krayzelburg, Lindsay Benko and Grant Hackett





(The call was to discuss the current Spring National Championships taking place in Indianapolis, Ind., as well as the upcoming Mutual of Omaha Duel in the Pool competition, taking place Sunday, April 6, which features the USA versus Australian swim teams. The event will air on NBC, April 12-13.

In 2003, Speedo also is celebrating its 75th anniversary. The brand began on Bondi Beach in Australia in the late 1920’s, and maintains a relationship with Australian Swimming that is the longest continual sports sponsorship on the planet. Speedo's association with USA Swimming dates back to the 1960s.

The April issue of Swimming World contains a feature on Speedo's 75 year history.)

Question: We know you are facing increased competition in the backstroke. Last night (at Spring Nationals), you swam faster in the 200-meter backstroke than you have in nearly 2 ½ years. Can you talk a little about that and how you plan to continue to improve over the next year as we head into Athens.

Krayzelburg: Since the Olympic Games competition things have gotten a little bit tougher. Aaron Piersol broke my world records about a year ago and has just had a tremendous year. Last night, Michael Phelps won in a great time. It has been a tough 2 ½ years for me personally because of my injuries. I have not been able to consistently train well. I had two surgeries that followed within a year of each other. Right after I recovered from the first I had to face the second
one, and I have not been able to stay consistent in training. I think the key in this sport is being consistent in training. If you can do that, your times will be good.

Question:Is there anything other than maintaining your consistency that will help you improve your times going into Athens?

Krayzelburg: The last four or five months I have been able to be consistent and I am really excited. I have no doubt that I will be at my best by this summer at World Championships. As for training for Athens, I will be right back where I was before Sydney.

Question to
Lindsay Benko: You are a native of Indiana. From Elkhart, and will be inducted into the Indiana Hall of Fame at a ceremony on Friday, April 4 at the IUPUI Natatorium. Tell us a little about that. Also, since the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney where you earned a gold medal on the relay team, you have improved your times by about two seconds in some races. Please talk about that as well.

Benko: I have been swimming much better since the Olympic Games. I think I learned a lot about swimming in general and about myself since the Olympic Games. That has been helping me to improve. About the ceremony, I do know that at the Natatorium they have a whole Wall of Fame with a lot of pictures of people who have given Indiana swimming a name. Tomorrow night my picture will go up on that wall and that is quite an honor.

Question to Lenny Krayzelburg: What were your surgeries for and please give the dates.

Krayzelburg: I had shoulder surgery in August 2001. Then my last surgery was in September 2001. I tore my ACL and had full reconstructive ACL surgery

Question: How did you tear your ACL?

Krayzelburg: I was training and running sprints on the treadmill. My ankle gave out on me. I twisted my ankle and kind of went sideways, and fell off the treadmill. It was kind of a freak accident. Unfortunately, things happen like that. I am just glad that it happened in enough time to recover for the games in Athens.

Question to Lindsay Benko: You mentioned that it was hard to come down from the high you had after setting the short course world record in the women’s freestyle. I am wondering if you could revisit that and tell me what that was like and if you feel more like yourself now.

Benko: Setting the world record in that event and being the first woman to swim that fast in the 400 short course free was quite a high. It took me a while to get myself back on track and now I realize I still have a lot to do in order to achieve those goals I have set for myself. I think I am back on track to achieve those and hopefully I can set some more records.

Question: Describe what it is like trying to get ready for a dual meet like this.

Krayzelburg: It is a very unique event. It is for bragging rights to see who is the best in the world, so it is easy to get up for an event like this. We know the two fastest and greatest swim nations in the world are going head to head. It is their best versus our best. It is an exciting time.

Benko: I agree with Lenny. Because of the nature of the event, it is easy to get up. To be able to have those bragging rights before the Olympics is going to give one country a lot of confidence. It is going to be a lot of fun for those of us who have not had a chance to swim in college for a while. It is always fun to swim one on one against another team.

Question: Does it make a difference that Ian (Thorpe) is not going to be here this month.

Krayzelburg: It makes a difference for Australia because he is definitely their best swimmer. Whether it is going to affect whole outcome of the meet, absolutely not. For them, it somewhat makes a difference but in the grand scheme of things, I do not think so.

Question:Do you wish he was here?

Krayzelburg: Of course. It would be great for him to come. He is one of the biggest faces in our sport and around the world He is one of the most popular swimmers so it would be great for him to be here. He is the representative of Australian swimming (Ian) not being here is a little bit disappointing. He has been faced with an illness and I am sure everyone will just go out and compete their best.

Question: In talking to one of your teammates the other day, they said that a lot of people do not know about the Australian teammates. What would you tell them (in terms of their swimming)?

Benko: They can definitely go out and surprise you. On the women’s side, they are definitely improving. Swimming is very big in Australia. They look at it a lot differently than the Americans look at swimming. It is highly recognized and they know what it takes to be a good swimmer as far as training and such.

Question: How long has it been since either one of you has competed in a dual meet?

Benko: I swam in the Goodwill Games in 2001 in Brisbane, Australia. Since then I have not actually competed in a duel meet.

Krayzelburg: For me, it has been since the 1998 Goodwill Games.

Question: Do you approach it differently?

Benko: You kind of have to because you are swimming a lot more events so you have to pace yourself. It is all about getting your hands on the wall first.

Krayzelburg: Absolutely. It is all about putting your hand on the wall first and making the team win the championships.

Question: How is the confidence that either team gains from this event going to translate? Is that going to translate immediately at World Championships and how important is that at World Championships?

Benko: The World Championships coming up in July are everyone’s first priority. Both of our teams at Duel in the Pool are the same teams that are going to be at World Championships. That is going to give us a lot of confidence going into Worlds. After the competition at Worlds, the next big competition is the Olympics and hopefully it will all keep going up from there.

Question: Lenny, what do you think in terms of the importance of establishing yourself now and going into Worlds?

Krayzelburg: It is very important. I am looking forward to coming out and making a statement from a confidence standpoint as well as overall in the competition on where you stand. This meet will be a good indication for showing the world as well as your top competitions on where you stand and what you could be doing at the World Championships this summer.

Question: By having the Duel in the Pool at the end of Spring Nationals does it make them different than they have been in the past?

Krayzelburg: Not necessarily because I think a lot of people have made Duel in the Pool their main goal is this competition. Spring Nationals are important but I think it is a stepping-stone for Duel in the Pool. It is always good to compete and get a couple of races under your belt. I think that just gives you added confidence.

Question: Lindsay, please touch on the maturity aspect. Please give us a few specifics about what you do differently now compared to prior to the Games in 2000.

Benko: Going into the Games in Sydney in 2000 there were a lot of people expecting me to make the Olympic team. I kind of let that pressure get to me. Now I basically have done everything I want to do in my swimming career. I have won an Olympic gold medal and that is something I have wanted to do. Now there is no pressure to have to do that again. I have a lot more goals that I want to do. I have just learned to take care of my body better and take care of myself better. Now I am doing it for fun whereas before, maybe I only said that I was doing it for fun.

Question to Lindsay: As distinguished as your career has been it must seem amazing that you have yet to win an individual gold medal at an Olympics or long course World Championships. Is it a priority for you?

Benko: Yes. It is one of the reasons I am still here. I think when I did not make the final after the 200m free at the Olympics I went up to my coach and basically said that I thought I was better than what I was showing in 2000. That is why I am still here.

Question: You look like you might be leaner. Are you lighter or are you the same that you have always been?

Benko: I definitely am (lighter).

Question: Did you intentionally lose weight or is that just a consequence of your training?

Benko: It has been a little bit of both. I have been more careful with my eating habits and nutrition. This is something that I learned from some of the girls at the Olympics. I think going into the Olympics I was just there doing everything and not putting the extra effort into making the Olympic team. Now I feel like I am going that extra mile. I am a lot stronger and because I have a lot more strength, I think that might be what is making me look leaner. I am working a lot harder in the weight room than I had before.

Grant Hackett Conference Call (which followed the above):

Question: Grant is a 22-year-old freestyle specialist. He medaled in the 2000 Olympic Games in the 1500m freestyle. You have a winning streak in the 1500m free. Since 1997 you have not been beaten. At Pan Pacs, Worlds, Goodwill Games and so on. Please talk a little about that and your success.

Hackett: The last time I was beaten I was 15 years old back in April of 1996 at Olympic Trials for our Olympic team going to Atlanta. From then on I have kept improving and since then my goal every year has been to improve. Since getting to an Olympic level where I have won at Olympic Games and World Championships and (setting) world records, it has enabled me to keep that dominance because of wanting to keep improving and keep moving forward. I have enjoyed it. I race against Ian Thorpe in the shorter races. In the 200m and 400m it allows me to be faster and improve, which in turn allows me to improve in the 1500m.

Question: Tell us from an Australian team perspective and also from your personal one about the US versus Australian rivalry.

Hackett: The US and Australia teams have always been big for many years now. I think we have been the most competitive nations when it comes to swimming. Obviously I love getting up against the U.S. My two biggest rivals at the moment come from the U.S. and I always enjoy racing them. The great thing about the rivalry is that we are all really good friends. We all get along really well and like to do things together. When we dive into the water it is fierce competition. World records have been known to go down when we get up against each other. We just enjoy that competitive atmosphere that surrounds that. I think that is what we all do it for. It is because of the team morale and the adrenalin you get from it. This is a great opportunity for two of possibly the best swimming nations in the world to go head to head and have some fun with the sport.

Question: Talk about the situation with Ian (Thorpe) not being here. How difficult does that make it for your team?

Hackett: Not having Ian here is a bit of a disappointment. He has had an illness earlier this year and he has been unable to travel. It is a bit disappointing and for us as a team. I think we have felt the effects of that. He has been a dominant figure in the sport of swimming for quite some time but we will pull together really strong. We are all looking forward to competing in our own events. Without Ian being here it does allow some others to get up there and shine. I have always enjoyed the personal rivalry that I have with Ian. I compete in his events and I seem to be the one pushing at the moment. Personally it is disappointing that I do not even get to race him. Second of all I think it is disappointing for our team not to have such a figurehead but at the same time, it gives us an opportunity to get up and perform without Ian there and let other athletes shine from our country.

Question: Is this an Australian team that is not at full strength?

Hackett: There is no doubt it is not at full strength. We know we are going in as underdogs. We know we have not got our best possible team that we could have, which is a bit sad. We have another couple of swimmers missing who play a huge part but at the same time, like I said, it gives other athletes who are not quite at that level a chance to shine. We are the underdogs at this meet and we are just looking forward to competing and doing our best. It is not a bad position to go in as.

Question: How has the rivalry changed since the Sydney Olympics?

Hackett: It seems to have gotten more competitive, particularly in 2001 where we did win the World Championships in the gold medal count. That really sort of shocked the U.S. I do not think they expected that. They had such a dominant Olympics. We won five gold medals and I am not exactly sure what their count was. We came back the next year and won 11 or 12 of the World Championships. Then in 2003, we won the World Short Course and then the Pan Pacific Championships. I think it is an increase since the Olympics and it has continued to increase. The competition has gotten closer and closer. We are just looking forward to more competition in the future. I guess the next year is the Olympics and next after this is World Championships. They are major meets in which you can gauge how strong the nation is going to be in terms of swimming.

Question: There was some talk that your team would not be coming over here because of what was going on in the Middle East. How close was that decision?

Hackett: For us as athletes we were lifted up to the hierarchy of our sport. They realized with U.S. security, people who have done the security for the Olympics, that we basically left it in their hands and said if you guys can guarantee our safety 100%, fine, go ahead. We will come, no worries. We want to compete for our nation and do our nation proud. Right now I am sitting in a police car that is part of our convoy that travels to and from the pool everyday. That just proves how tight the security is and how safe it is for us to be competing here in the US.

Question: How long has it been since you have competed in a dual meet?

Hackett: The last duel meet I did was at the Goodwill Games in 2001. We swam quite well there, and I enjoyed it. I like the concept because it is a change from the normal.

Question: Last night we were talking to Lenny Krayzelburg just after he was beaten by Michael Phelps in the 200m backstroke, and he said that he thinks that rather than Thorpe, that Phelps is actually the best swimmer in the world right now. Please comment.

Hackett: I guess at the moment, perhaps Phelps is. I am not sure. I guess that is up to the FINA world rankings and international points score that determines who is the best swimmer in the world. Obviously Ian has been so competitive for several years now that he is not going to perform well at every single meet. He has had such a dominance in world swimming and I think he has won three or four world swimmer of the year (awards), which is just phenomenal. If someone steps up incredibly at a meet like Phelps seems to these days, and he is so young and passionate and is still improving his times, there is no doubt he could be the best swimmer in the world at the moment. Thorpe had a good trials but he was not up to the standards he normally competes at due to the fact that he had an illness earlier in the year. I think we will have to determine who is the world’s best swimmer in this particular year when it comes down to the World Championships. That is the big stage and that is where you have to perform. That is where you stand up and you are accounted.

Question: One of the reasons Krayzelburg thought that was the range of events that Phelps is swimming. I know that Thorpe is expanding his range of events. For you, as someone who has expanded mostly your distance rather than your strokes, can you talk about how difficult it is to do that?

Hackett: It is very difficult, particularly when you have been so engrained in any particular event for so many years. Thorpe has just been a freestyle swimmer, where someone like Phelps has grown up over many years doing the same strokes. Doing IM, which allows him to be competitive in four strokes and probably dominate in one or two outside of that if he is capable. In a sense I think it is a lot harder for Thorpe to go onto other strokes. He went into the 200 IM for the first time ever and broke the Commonwealth Games record, which is a huge feat. He went 2:00:1, which is only a second and a bit off of Phelps’ best. I think at this stage if I have to pick or choose which one is the world’s best swimmer, I would no doubt say Thorpe, because of the history and the phenomenal things he has done. He has broken something like 23 world records amongst world long course swimming.

Question: A lot of the Americans say they do not know yet what they are going to swim on Sunday. Do you know for sure what you are going to swim?

Hackett: I know at this stage I am swimming the 200m free and the 1500m free.

Question: Talk about you guys just coming off your National Championships and whether that was difficult for you peak for both of these things?

Hackett: Always for us it is quite hard coming off a National Championships and having to travel directly to the U.S. I think at this stage, we are competing on Sunday and still quite a few of the team members are having trouble with the jetlag and getting into the time zone. At the same time, I think our team has had a better trials than it had in previous years. A lot of young competitors are stepping up and swimming well. We have gotten on a team for the World Championships. Everyone is really motivated. Everyone has done quite well at trials and, I am sure we can drag out our preparation. The way we are swimming into this U.S. meet I think we will be able to get up and swim quite competitively. For meets, I have always been able to get up better for the second one, after I have had a little racing under my belt. I am really looking forward to jumping in the water and having a bit of a swim.

Question: Swimming is much bigger in the sports landscape in Australia than in the U.S. The rivalry with Australia really helps media coverage here. Does the same thing occur in Australia?

Hackett: Definitely. The fact that the U.S. is so competitive in our sport makes huge headlines in Australia. We have a very popular sport and a very big following, which we are very lucky to have.

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