Interview with Jewish Olympian Jason Lezak

Jason Lezak

We have all seen him swim. Who could forget the 2008 Beijing Games, when as the anchor of men's 4x100m freestyle relay team, he surged from behind and out-touched France's Alain Bernard to win gold for USA in one of the most exciting finishes in Olympic history.

Just as we are captivated by the swimmers of Team USA at these 2016 Rio Games, we were glued to our televisions over the past few Olympics watching Jason Lezak become one of the most decorated swimmers, Olympians, and Jewish athletes of all time.

Lezak's participation in the Maccabi Games over the World Championships was a historic Jewish sports moment. Now, he is a part of the team. Read the interview and sign up to bring him to your event. Oh, and swimmers everywhere can sign up to go to Israel with the legend himself. Just click here.

1. Tell us about yourself.

I grew up in Irvine, California and began swimming at the age of five, played on the high school basketball team and became an All-American in water-polo. In 1998, I made an impact at the U.S. National Championships that year, winning my first national title in the 100m freestyle, and then went on to win a gold and silver medal at the 2000 Olympic Games. At the 2004 Olympic Games, I took home a bronze medal in the 4x100m freestyle relay and the gold in a world-record-breaking swim in the 4x100m medley relay. I also represented the U.S. in Israel at the Maccabiah games.

2. You had such an historic Olympic career. What was the highlight?

The 2008 Olympics 4x100 free relay. We had lost the previous two Olympics after never losing before in Olympic history. To help bring back gold for USA was really special.

3. What was the best part of swimming with Michael Phelps? What makes him so unique?

To watch him prepare for a race and see his focus and determination. He is unique because not only does he do all the strokes at the highest level, he can do short distances as well as middle distances. Never has there been anyone who comes even close to him.

4. Is there any event you wish you had competed in but it didn't work out?

I wish I could have represented the USA at Maccabiah in 2001 and 2005, but unfortunately it interfered with World Championships. Since I was swimming professionally as my job, I needed to go to the Worlds.

5. Are you good at other water sports -- skiing, diving, water polo?

I was an All-American water polo player in high school. Every year at UC Santa Barbara the coach wanted me to join the college team, but I decided it was too tough to do both if I wanted to achieve my dream of making the Olympics one day.

6. What was your Jewish upbringing like?

I was brought up in a Reform synagogue. I went to Hebrew school as a kid and had my bar mitzvah at 13.

7. What have you been up to since you last swam in the Olympics?

After I retired from swimming in 2012, I have been doing swim clinics across the country, swim camps around the world, motivational speaking, and other appearances. I love the sport of swimming and enjoy still being a part of it in a different way.

8. Anything else you want to share?

Going to Israel in 2009 was a special trip for me. I learned so much of it as a kid and always wanted to experience it. I always saw myself as Jewish and an athlete, but being able to compete in the Maccabiah games, I for the first time saw myself differently. Putting them together I was a Jewish athlete.

Jeremy Fine photo
Jeremy Fine is currently the Associate Rabbi at Temple of Aaron in St. Paul Minnesota. He was ordained at the Jewish Theological Seminary. Even though Jeremy lives in Minnesota, he considers himself a Chicago guy. He loves deep dish pizza and The C... Read More

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