Taking the dive

Pointers from Olympic gold medalist Jason Lezak.

Olympic gold medalist swimmer Jason Lezak might look like a Greek god. He's 6 foot 4 inches (193 centimeters) tall, all muscle and has an aura of goodness that seems to touch all those around him; just one thing makes him even better, he's Jewish! So who better than to be inspired by to work out then our own Jason Lezak? He's an Olympic gold medalist, world record holder, nine times world champion and eight times US national champion. He's a team player, who practices alone. Lezak started training on his own two years ago when his longtime coach left to take a position at the University of Southern California. "I was at a point in my career where I knew what I needed to do to coach myself. But that does not mean just going to the pool." He has a specific workout plan. "Most people train nine times a week in the pool, but I think they do 'garbage yardage,' meaning in the quest to swim 6,000 meters, they throw in a bunch of crap." Lezak is a firm believer in quality, not quantity. "You've got to make every stroke count." It's not about having a coach poolside to motivate him. "I swim because I have goals, not because anyone is telling me." He is as strong in mind as in body, and it certainly was evident in the Beijing Olympic Games. Lezak was one of the swimmers in the epic four by 100 relay. The US won this race 13 consecutive times until 2000 and 2004, when it started coming in second. This year the French were favored to win, and they were having a field day trash talking the Americans. It was also the race the Americans needed to win, if Michael Phelps would keep his dream alive of winning eight Olympic gold medals. Lezak was the anchor and when it was his turn to swim, the Americans, as predicted, were placing second. "In the lead up to my race, we were behind, and knew I had to get off the block as fast as I could. I thought I false started, and spent the next five seconds thinking I disqualified Team USA." The average person might have given up, but Jason smiled as he told me his thoughts. "I refocused and kept going. When I got to the 50 wall, I saw the French swimmer had pulled away and I thought there was no way I could catch up." World-class competitors don't make it to the games by giving up, and Lezak was in no mood to come in second. "It's all about the power of the mind. I blocked it out, felt strong and good; it was the Olympic Games." He grinned and leaned forward, "I was breathing to the right side, so every time I took a breath I could see where he was in the water, when I got to the 85 meter mark, typically the body shuts down, but I had an extra surge of adrenaline. I've looked at the replays, I did not go faster, but he tightened up and faded, dying like a dog." Lezak broke a world record, stunned even the announcers as he overtook the French swimmer, who was a full body length ahead of him, and clinched the gold medal for Team USA. When he looked up to see who won, "I was in shock, exhausted, could hardly walk, but I had all the excitement inside. All those years of swimming - felt like it all paid off." So if you are wondering what it is like to swim with an Olympic gold medalist, I was too. I'm a recreational swimmer, so after our interview, I had a swim lesson. Talk about turning the tables. As a journalist I am usually the one in control, the one trying to figure out the story. So having Lezak analyze my swimming, as nice as he is, was completely intimidating, but his advice worked, I shaved a second off my times. I also spent some time underwater watching Lezak swim; it was like a knife cutting through butter. The way he moves through the water, he is frictionless. It was absolutely beautiful. Practice does make perfect, and I was curious about his enormous drive and energy. He explained, "I am motivated by myself, but there has to be a goal, a reason to achieve certain things. Truthfully, not having won some of the races I wanted to makes me hungrier." It was food for thought - positive thinking, goals and a plan, but I still wondered is it easy to stay motivated swimming alone? "I've been successful because I'm good at being in charge of myself and now I've proved it. For two years I've trained without a coach; I knew it, but people doubted because no one else does it. I stick to my routine, swimming only five days a week, so I make sure I'm there." Where does Lezak go from here? Well he's not telling, but he is still training. He's never been to Israel and is looking for a sponsor as he'd like to be able to spend some time there and he can't attend the Maccabiah Games, as they conflict with another race. Don't be surprised if he graces your television screens once again in 2012, and this time, there is no telling what surprises he has in store. So the next time you need a little motivation to work out, think of Jason Lezak, after all practice, perseverance and positive thinking can turn silver into gold. fungirlcorrespondent@gmail.com