Krayzelburg, Lenny

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KRAYZELBURG, LENNY (1975– ), U.S. swimmer, winner of four Olympic gold medals. Krayzelburg was born in Odessa, Russia, to Oleg, who owned a coffee shop, and Yelena, an accountant. He started swimming at age five, and by 10 had won the silver medal in his age group in the All-Soviet championships. But Krayzelburg's parents felt there would be limited opportunities for their Jewish family, and were also afraid their son would be drafted into the army, so Krayzelburg immigrated to the U.S. with his parents and sister in 1989, settling in Los Angeles. Krayzelburg joined the swimming team at the Westside Jewish Community Center, learning English while also working there as a lifeguard. After graduating from Fairfax High School in 1993, Krayzelburg attended Santa Monica City College for one year, winning the 1994 junior college state title in the 200 m. backstroke in 1:47.91. Krayzelburg then transferred to usc, where he began to win national and world titles. After becoming a U.S. citizen in 1995, Krayzelburg burst onto the national scene at the Olympic trials in 1996, where he had the second-best time in the heats of the 200 m. backstroke, but missed making the team when he finished fifth in the final race.

Krayzelburg won gold medals in the 100 m. and 200 m. backstroke at the 1998 World Championships, and then broke an unprecedented three world records in the 50 m. (24:99), 100 m. (53:60), and 200 m. (1:55:87) backstroke while winning three gold medals at the Pan American Pacific Championships in August 1999. Krayzelburg was subsequently voted U.S. Swimmer of the Year.

At the Sydney Olympics in 2000, Krayzelburg won a gold medal in the 100 m. backstroke, while smashing the Olympic record with a time of 53.72. Krayzelburg then broke the Olympic record in the 200 m. backstroke in the semifinals with a time of 1:57.27. In the finals of the 200 m. backstroke he took another gold medal, again breaking the Olympic record 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. He was again named U.S. Swimmer of the Year as well as one of People magazine's 50 Most Beautiful People.

In the summer of 2001, Krayzelburg decided not to compete at the World Championships, opting instead to participate at the Maccabiah Games, where he shattered the Maccabiah record in the 100 m. backstroke with a time of 55.24 (the old record was 58.08). He injured his shoulder and was unable to compete in either the 100 m. freestyle or 200 m. backstroke, and was sidelined the rest of the year. His decision to forgo the World Championships earned Krayzelburg the honor of being named captain of the U.S. Maccabiah team for the 2005 Maccabiah.

Krayzelburg returned to form in 2002 and by the end of the year was ranked No. 2 in the U.S. in the 200 m. backstroke (1:58.67) and No. 3 in the 100 m. backstroke (54.48). In 2003, he won the 100 m. backstroke at the U.S. Open Swimming Championships, and finished second in the 200 m.

At the 2004 Athens Olympics, Krayzelburg missed a medal in the 100 m. backstroke final by 2/100ths of a second, finishing fourth in 54.38. He swam the opening leg in the men's 4 × 100 medley relay team heat, and though he did not swim in the final, he was awarded a gold medal as the U.S. took first place and smashed the world record.

Krayzelburg formed the Lenny Krayzelburg Foundation to support swimming in the inner city, and in June 2005 donated $100,000 to renovate the facility at his first swimming home, the Westside Jewish Community Center.

[Elli Wohlgelernter (2nd ed.)]