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Friday, August 21, 2015

Olympian Jason Lezak stops by Cunningham Pool

Olympic gold medalist Jason Lezak

Olympian Jason Lezak stops by Cunningham Pool

Two years after retiring from a stellar swimming career, Olympic champion Jason Lezak is hoping to inspire younger swimmers to follow in his footsteps.

The eight-time Olympic medalist, referred to by many as “The Anchor,” decided to make port in Vallejo on Thursday to give dozens of young swimmers at Cunningham Pool autographs, photo opportunities and swimming pointers.

“I blocked about a week of time this summer to head up to Northern California and just see if teams or people wanted some help,” Lezak said. “I get a big mix of kids at this one and I get to share stories and teach them a few things. I made a lot of mistakes early in my swimming career and when I look back sometimes, I say to myself that I wish I would have done this, or I wish I would have done that. There are some kids here that are really serious about swimming but there are also a lot that are just having a good time.”

Lezak won eight medals, including four gold medals in his career that saw him compete in the 2000, 2004, 2008 and 2012 Olympic games. He also owns long-course world records in the 400-meter freestyle and medley relays. He may be known more than anything for his role in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing where in the final 25 meters of the 4-by-100 relay race he came from behind France’s Alain Bernard to win the race for the United States and give teammate Michael Phelps his record-breaking eighth gold medal in one Olympic games.

Dylan Powell, who lives in Vallejo and swam at Diablo Valley College, was 12 when Lezak starred in the 2008 games. On Thursday the 19-year-old Powell was thrilled to finally meet his idol.

“I remember watching his amazing, perfect swim in 2008 and it was like a dream finally coming true to finally meet him,” Powell said. “When I walked on deck I thought I was going to pass out. I was like, ‘Here is the guy. Here is the guy I’ve looked up to and he’s seven feet in front of me.’ So it felt great to finally shake his hand.”

Powell would be part of one of Lezak’s demonstrations in the pool as the Olympian discussed how to perform a perfect streamline. A streamline form is used at the start of a race to help create the least amount of resistance to help the swimmer propel as far as they can.

Powell and Lezak had a competition to see who could streamline the furthest. The crowd of swimmers cheered as Powell matched Lezak’s distance.

“I was just honored to be in (Lezak’s) presence,” Powell said. “I was extremely nervous and just wanted to make sure I didn’t slip on the block and do a complete belly-flop into the pool. I just focused on doing my dive right so I could make him proud.”

Vallejo’s Charity Donato, 11, was also thrilled to meet Lezak.

“He was really inspiring and he talked a lot about the Olympics,” Donato said. “I was really happy to meet him and it was cool to be wearing the actual gold medal he won when I had my picture taken with him. I had a bag, a swim cap and a shirt autographed by him.”

The 39-year-old Lezak said the decision to retire in 2013 was not a difficult one.

“The number one thing is my body felt ready to be done,” Lezak said, with a laugh. “Although, since I retired it’s nice because I get to do things like this a lot more often. Sometimes when I was training I wasn’t able to help kids at clinics like this as much as I wanted.”

Lezak also stressed that the most important thing to do while swimming was to have a good time.

“For a lot of the young kids they are here just to have fun,” Lezak said. “At the same time I see some of these young kids and you can see the look in their face and it’s the same one I had. The main focus is to try and keep this about being fun.”
 Olympic gold medalist Jason Lezak, facing, center, talks about ‘streamlining’ while visiting a Vallejo Aquatics Club practice last week at Cunningham Pool in Vallejo. MIKE JORY — VALLEJO TIMES-HERALD

MIKE JORY — VALLEJO TIMES-HERALD Retired Olympic swimmer Jason Lezak signs the back of a Vallejo Aquatics Club member during a visit to Cunningham Pool last week.

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