There has never been a glut of Lezak magazine covers, Lezak soft focus TV features, Lezak mania. Although he is a well-regarded figure among the chlorine crowd -- he is a first-rate relay swimmer who set the American 100-meter freestyle record at the U.S. trials -- Lezak never has been an A-lister for the
Historically the Olympics will belong to Phelps, the Qin Shi Huang of the pool, but the incandescent moment belonged to a 32-year-old swimmer who Monday turned in, arguably, the greatest swim in American history.
With Phelps' quest for an unprecedented No. 8 about to fizzle practically before it started -- the 4x100 freestyle relay was his second final in a week that was busier than a Beijing rush hour -- Lezak tapped into something in himself that the world, and he, had never witnessed before. Swimming the anchor leg, Lezak, trailing by about a body length as they turned for the final 50 meters, ran down
In less than a minute, Lezak had alchemized a leaden career -- he didn't even qualify for the 100-meter final in Athens four years ago -- into pure gold.
"I just happened to have the swim of my life at the right time," Lezak said.
"The whole thing was remarkable," said
"There's never been [an anchor swim like that] in my memory," American head coach
American swimmers have had similar success in hunting down formidable big game at Olympics relays, notably
"Jason is the most phenomenal closer I've ever seen in my life," said
Trailing by almost sixth-tenths of a second when he dove into the pool -- his .04 reaction time was the second fastest of 24 exchanges in the race -- Lezak actually lost tenths of a second on the outgoing 50. Then on the back end of the race, with Phelps' unique place in Olympic swimming history in the balance, he began to reel in the Frenchman, creeping closer to Bernard's lane and drafting as if he were tailing former Formula 1 star
"It's happened to me all my career that people would get on my lane line and suck off me," Lezak said, "so I figured this was one opportunity in all my career to do that. ... I'm not going to lie. When I flipped at the 50, it really crossed my mind for a split second that there was no way. Then I changed. And I said, 'You know what, that's ridiculous at the Olympics. I'm here for the United States of America. I don't care how bad it hurts or whatever.' ... Honestly in five seconds I was thinking all these things. I got like a supercharge and took it from there."
If the French had been talking about smashing the Americans -- this seems to be an urban legend, but if Bernard did say something to that effect prior to the race, French technical director
"I am neither shocked nor disappointed," he said of Bernard's failure. "[Lezak] is a swimmer with a huge amount of experience and he swam intelligently. As far as I'm concerned, it is not Alain Bernard who lost but the Americans who won."