One of America’s most decorated swimmers is skipping the world championships in July for a chance to compete in Israel.
Jason Lezak, winner of two golds and a bronze at last summer’s Beijing Olympics, will bypass the year’s most important swimming competition in favor of the Maccabiah Games, the quadrennial “Jewish Olympics,” set to begin on July 13 in Tel Aviv. The winner of additional golds at the 2000 and 2004 Olympics, Lezak told Maccabiah organizers that he hopes to use the Israeli competition to break his personal best in the 100-meter freestyle — the same stroke and distance he used to deliver one of the Beijing Games’ most electrifying victories. Coming from behind as the anchor of the American 4 x 100-meter freestyle team, Lezak swam a record-shattering split to win an American gold medal and help Michael Phelps secure a record eight gold medals.
A 33-year-old native of California, Lezak swam in Jewish community center races as a child before competing for the University of California at Santa Barbara. The 6-foot-4-inch, 205-pound swimmer arrived in Israel a week before the Maccabiah Games’ opening ceremony, visiting Jerusalem’s Old City and meeting with Nir Barkat, the city’s mayor. The swimmer follows earlier Olympic champions Lenny Krayzelburg and Mark Spitz in diving into the Maccabiah pool.
First held in 1932, the Maccabiah Games are expected to host more than 7,000 athletes from around the world, with events ranging from gymnastics and judo to basketball and water polo.
Other top athletes set to compete in Israel include Russian pole-vaulter Evgeny Lukyanenko and Ukrainian wrestler Vasyl Fedoryshyn, both silver medalists in Beijing.