Teammate Lezak is lifesaver for Phelps 2008-08-11 17:18:03   Print

    By sportswriter Lou Chen


    BEIJING, Aug. 11 (Xinhua) -- If it wasn't for Jason Lezak, Michael Phelps' hope for eight golds at a single Olympics would be dashed.

    Lezak, a veteran relay freestyler, let out one of his strongest 100 meter races ever to anchor the Olympic gold medal for the United States in 4X100 free relay on Monday.

    The 32-year-old swimmer hit the water about half a second slower than French former world record holder Alain Bernard, but overhauled Bernard by 0.08 seconds. His time of 46.06 seconds was about 1.30 seconds faster than his year best.

    Lezak, together with teammates Phelps, Weber-Gale Garrett and Cullen Jones, took down their own free relay world record by four seconds at three minutes 8.24 seconds.

    The Californian was part of the American relay team which won the 400 free relay silver in 2000 Sydney Games and bronze in Athens. He came to Beijing not wanting to lose anymore.

    "I've been a part of the two teams at the last two Olympics that came out behind. I think I wanted it more than anybody, not just for myself, but to show that we are the nation to be beat in that relay," he said.

    "Before the race we all knew that the way the French had swum in the preliminaries, that when they added their best two guys, it was going to be a tight race," he said after winning.

    "I knew I had to swim my mind out. I had more adrenaline going than I ever had in my life. This is one opportunity in all my career to do that," he said.

    In the race, Phelps led off to a good start, finishing second after Australian Eamon Sullivan, who set a 100m free world record at 47.24 seconds. But his hope to break Mark Spitz's seven-gold mark at a single Games was under serious threat when the French swimmers began taking over the lead in the third leg.

    It was Lezak who finally defused the threat.

    "I definitely brought it back really strong after kicking out really hard," he said.

    After the triumph, Lezak pounded on the block and was hugged by his teammates. "We were all so excited and yelling at each other. I don't think I remembered a word any of us had to say," Lezak said.

    Phelps, appearing to be overjoyed at the victory, screamed with his arms held high.

    "Jason finished the race better than we could have asked for. At the end, as you could see I was pretty excited. I was very emotional," Phelps said.

    The other teammates also gave him much credit for the final victory.

    "Two years back, he (Lezak) talked about winning all the relays. When he lost in 2000 and 2004, I can see on his face the pain of losing something like that," said Weber-Gale.

    "It was a crazy thing to watch (today). I was just thinking that, if there was anybody in the world that could have pulled that off (in the last leg), it was Jason," he added.

    "Jason is the most phenomenal closer I have ever seen in my life. He's been able to get his hand on the wall from behind and also from in front," said Jones, the third leg swimmer.

    "I've always looked up to Jason. He's a leader on the team, and he has an ability to psych me up when I'm nervous," he said.

Editor: Xinhuanet
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