Jason Lezak is a Jewish American swimmer and a seven-time Olympic medalist.
Lezak was born on November 12, 1975, in Bellflower, California. At the age of five, he joined the Novaquatics swim team in Irvine, California, and has never left. He first qualified for the nationals while a senior in high school and in 1994, Lezak was a high school All-American in water polo. At Irvine, Lezak was coached by Dave Salo, who used a unique training method emphasizing quality over quantity. Lezak appreciated Salo’s philosophy of concentration on fast-twitch muscles and did not see the need to swim thousands of meters every day.
Lezak began 1999 on a promising note, winning the bronze medal in the 100-meter freestyle at the U.S. Open. At the Pan Pacific Championships that year, Lezak won a silver medal as a member of the 400-meter freestyle relay team. After competing at the Olympic pool in the 1999 Pan American Championships in Sydney, however, he suffered from bulging discs in his back in October.
His training was limited in 2000 due to his back injuries and to tendinitis in his elbow. Lezak recovered in time for the 2000 U.S. Olympic Trials, where he finished fourth in the 100-meter freestyle with a personal best of 49.15 seconds and qualified for the relay team. He also finished fifth in the 50-meter freestyle at the Olympic Trials.
At the 2000 Sydney Olympics, he competed in two relay events. In the 4x100-meter freestyle relay, the U.S. easily advanced to the finals by winning its preliminary heat (3:15.43). In the finals though, they were defeated by Australia and won the silver medal with a time of 3:13.86; it was the first time in Olympic history that the U.S. did not win the gold medal in that event. Lezak also swam in the preliminary heat of the 4x100-meter medley relay; the U.S. finished third in the heat (3:38.59), and went on to win the gold medal.
In 2001, Lezak made the U.S. National team by finishing second in the 50-meter and 100-meter freestyle events at the U.S. Nationals. At the World Championships (July 22-29), Lezak reached the semifinals in the 50-meter, but finished tenth overall (he failed to advance to the finals) with a time of 22.43; fellow American Jew Anthony Ervin won the gold medal. In the 100-meter freestyle at the Worlds, he finished eighth in the final with a time of 49.51.
At the 2002 U.S. Championships, Lezak finished in first place in both the 50-meter (22.34) and the 100-meter (49.19) freestyle events. One week later, he won the 50-meter freestyle at the Pan Pacific Championships; Anthony Ervin finished in second place in the 50-meter at both competitions. At the end of the 2002 season, Lezak was ranked No. 1 in the U.S. 50-meter free (22.00) and 100-meter (48.89).
Lezak performed well during 2003 in the short-distanced freestyle events. At the World Championships, he finished fourth in the 100-meter free with a time of 48.94. He also competed in the 50-meter free and finished eighth in the final with a time of 22.14.
At the 2004 U.S. Olympic Trials, Lezak broke the American record in the 100-meter freestyle (48.17) in the semifinals. He eventually won the 100-meter and also qualified for the Olympics in the 50-meter freestyle (22.05). At the 2004 Athens Olympics, Jason swam in heat 9 in the 100-meter freestyle event and came in fifth (49.87), with a disappointing time. He failed to qualify for the semifinals. Lezak has done better in the 50-meter freestyle event. He swam in heat 9 on the morning of August 19 and finished third (22.33), thus qualifying for the semifinals. His time was the seventh-best among the sixteen swimmers which competed in the semifinals. Lezak won the second semifinal and qualified for the final with the third-best qualifying time (22.12). Jason improved on his qualification time in the final (22.11) but finished fifth, nine-hundredths of a second behind third place and the bronze medal. Though he did not participate in the heats, Lezak was picked to swim the fourth leg in the 4X100 medley relay final on August 21. Jason helped the U.S.A to a gold medal, as well as a new world record (3:30.68).
Lezak qualified for the 2008 Beijing Olympics in the 100m freestyle, the 4x100m free relay, and the 4x100m medley relay. He was the oldest man on the U.S. swim team at age 32. He anchored the U.S. men’s 400-meter freestyle relay team to a come-from-behind victory, stealing the Gold from the French. His leg, the fastest 100-relay split (46.06), marked one of the most memorable moments of the Games. Jason also swam the last leg of the 4x100m Men’s Medley Relay to secure the gold and Michael Phelps’ record-setting 8th gold medal.
In 2009, Lezak was inducted into the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in the 30th edition of the ceremony at the 18th Maccabiah Games in Israel. At the games, he set a new Maccabiah record for the men’s 100-meter freestyle at 47.78 seconds and, as the anchor, helped the U.S. men’s relay team clinch the gold.
Lezak finished in sixth place at the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials in Omaha, Nebraska, and competed as a member of the U.S. 4x100m freestyle relay team at the 2012 London Olympics. He came in second place in the qualification for the Men’s 4x100m Freestyle race as well as the final itself; Lezak won a silver medal for his second-place finish (3:10.38, whereas he swam a 3:12.59-race in the qualification) in the Men’s 4x100m Freestyle Final.