Lenny May Bypass World Champs in 2001 to Swim in Israel

By Phillip Whitten

LOS ANGELES, Dec. 14. U.S. OLYMPIC triple gold medalist, Lenny Krayzelburg, told swiminfo he would like to compete in the Maccabiah Games in Israel next July, rather than swim at the World Championships, being held in Fukuoka, Japan, at the same time.

The Maccabiah Games—often called the "Jewish Olympics"—is one of the world’s oldest and largest multi-sport festivals and is held every four years in Israel.

Krayzelburg, who was born in Odessa, left the Soviet Union with his parents and sister in 1989 when he was 13, in part to escape from anti-Semitism. A competitive swimmer in the USSR, he continued swimming after his family settled in Los Angeles.

Krayzelburg became a United States citizen in 1994 and just missed making the 1996 U.S. Olympic team. By 1998 he was the fastest backstroker in the world, winning both the 100 and 200 metres events at the World Championships in Perth, Australia. Last year the University of Southern California graduate set world records for 50, 100 and 200 metres backstroke at the Pan Pacific Games. In 2000, he won individual gold medals at the Sydney Olympics in the 100 and 200 metres backstroke, both in Olympic record time, and led off the USA’s world record-setting 4 x 100 metres medley relay.

"I have never been to Israel," Krayzelburg said, "and I really would like to go there and compete in the Maccabiah Games next year. It is a very important part of my heritage." The 25 year-old superstar said he might rethink his decision if there was an escalation in the violence in the Middle East between now and next July.

Mark Spitz, who won five gold medals at the 1969 Maccabiah Games before going on to win seven gold at the Munich Olympics three years later, commented: "I think it's terrific that Lenny is choosing to swim at the Maccabiah Games. It will be a great experience for him.

"I'd like to see Lenny break one or both of his world (100 and 200m backstroke) records in Israel," Spitz said. "I don't believe a world swimming record has ever been broken at the Games." Spitz tied his own 100m butterfly record in Israel in 1969, but the swim did not occur in the Games, themselves.

Three other Jewish American Olympic swimming medalists indicated they were considering swimming in the Maccabiah Games, but probably would choose the World Championships if they made the U.S. team.

Anthony Ervin, who tied for gold in the 50 metres freestyle and led off the USA’s silver medal-winning 4 x 100 metres freestyle relay, said that though he would like to go to Israel, he was concerned about the danger in the Middle East.

Jason Lezak, who also swam on the 4 x 100 metres freestyle relay said "given the opportunity, most likely I would go to the World Championships." He pointed out that he and Krayzelburg are at different points in their careers: "Lenny has already
experienced Worlds, and I have not. I think if I keep up my training I have
a good shot at an individual medal there. Nothing is for sure, but this is the
way I am leaning.

Scott Goldblatt, the leadoff swimmer on the USA’s 4 x 200 metres freestyle relay, which finished second to Australia in Sydney, echoed Lezak’s thoughts. "I definitely would like to swim in the Maccabiah Games," he said, "but right now, if I can make the team, my first priority would be the World Championships."

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