by on March 7th, 2015
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Jason Lezak, former University of California, Santa Barbara swimmer was a 2004 and 2008 Olympic gold medalist. Lezak’s greatest moment came in the 2008, 4 X 100 freestyle final when he accomplished not the impossible but the unthinkable. By moving to the right side of his lane and drafting on the leader, he made up a half-body length on 100-meter freestyle individual gold medalist Alain Bernard in the final 25 meters to give the U.S. another gold medal in Beijing.

Like running speed, the ability to displace water at a world-class level can be improved through coaching and practice, but you can either run or swim faster than most people or you can’t. It’s an ingrained quality.

Jason Lezak not only had the knack for speed, he also had the ingenuity to invent a strategy under pressure, like drafting on the leader, to win the race of his life for his teammates. Lezak’s heroics also gave Michael Phelps, another swimming savant who was born for the life aquatic, his eighth gold medal at the 2008 Olympics, a record that surpassed American swimmer Mark Spitz’s seven at the 1972 Munich Games.

Note: During his pre-Olympic years, Spitz was fortunate to have had three of the greatest swim coaches the United States has known: Sherm Chavoor, Doc Counsilman, and George Haines.¹³ There is a story, and it may be apocryphal, about Mark Spitz swimming for the University of Indiana under the coaching of the legendary Doc Counsilman. Although he was a fish once in, Spitz didn’t like the initial plunge. So Doc would chase him around the pool until Spitz finally jumped in. In the whatever works department, perceptive teachers find ways to reach talented athletes, especially temperamental ones like Mark Spitz.

¹³ Courtesy of the International Swimming Hall of Fame,, available as of 10/28/05
(This story was excerpted from GUTS IN THE CLUTCH: 77 Legendary Triumphs, Heartbreaks
and Wild Finishes in 12 Sports)

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