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Krayzelburg Raising His High-Water Mark

TIMES STAFF WRITER

What does world-record holder Lenny Krayzelburg plan for an encore?

The possibilities are exciting to him, his coach and anyone looking ahead to the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney.

“I’m very confident and, hopefully, I can keep swimming the way I have been and ride this wave,” said Krayzelburg, 24.

Krayzelburg, a former Studio City resident now living in West Hollywood, capped an amazing year of national and international competition by setting world records in three backstroke events.

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In a virtuoso performance at the Pan Pacific Games in Sydney in August, Krayzelburg set a world record in winning the 200-meter backstroke in 1:55.87, nearly four seconds faster than second-place Ray Hass of Australia and almost a second better than the previous world mark of 1:56.57 set by Martin Lopez Zubero of Spain in 1991.

Three days earlier, Krayzelburg set a world record in the 100 backstroke, winning in 53.60, more than 1.5 seconds faster than runner-up Matt Welsh of Australia.

Krayzelburg set another world record of 24.99 in the 50 backstroke at the meet and swam the first leg of the 400 medley relay for the United States team, which won in 3:36.37.

“It was the greatest week I’ve ever had in my career,” Krayzelburg said.

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On top of the swimming world, Krayzelburg came from the other side of the world to get there.

He emigrated with his parents and younger sister from Odessa, Ukraine, in 1989 and became a U.S. citizen in 1995. Upon arrival in the U.S. at 13, Krayzelburg spoke no English but was comfortable in the water after several years as an age-group swimmer in Russia.

He quickly made himself at home, in the pool and in his adopted country, picking up English largely through swimming.

“The first year, it was a little bit tough,” he said. “They say the younger you are, the easier it is to learn new languages. But it still took me a while to get comfortable with it.”

Krayzelburg, a 1998 USC graduate who burst on the national scene by winning the 200 and 100 backstroke races at the U.S. National Championships in 1996, has continued to swim well since his unparalleled performance in the Pan Pacific Games.

He set meet records earlier this month with a 1:57.74 in the 200 backstroke and a 54.62 in the 100 backstroke at the U.S. Open in San Antonio, Texas.

As he looks ahead to the Olympic trials Aug. 9-16 in Indianapolis and the Olympics, Krayzelburg envisions better performances.

“I think I can go faster,” said Krayzelburg, who is expected to qualify for the Olympics in the 100 and 200 backstroke events and the men’s 400 medley relay.

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“There’s definitely things that I can work on and also it takes a certain amount of time for your body to get used to swimming at a certain speed and you get comfortable with it. Even though I swam a world record, my body’s not familiar with that. But once I get comfortable swimming at that speed on a consistent basis, then I can take it to another level.”

Mark Schubert, coach at USC and with the U.S. national team, has no doubt Krayzelburg will do it.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt he can go faster,” Schubert said. “He understands that he has to keep working, and he has such a great work ethic that, if he does that, I think this year can be really special.

“He just loves to swim and he really is able to maintain that enthusiasm. I think he really appreciates what he’s going through right now.”

There’s little doubt about that.

“It’s something that I love from the bottom of my heart and I just have fun,” Krayzelburg said. “When I was younger, I thought about the Olympics. But that was dreams. And now, it’s here.

“I don’t even want to think about it because I don’t want to jinx myself. But I want to really take everything in.”


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