Jason Lezak gave Michael Phelps a huge assist four years ago. Ryan Lochte gave Lezak a huge assist this time around, and Lezak parlayed his appreciation into a spot on his fourth consecutive U.S. Olympic team.
Lezak will forever be known as the swimmer whose incredible final leg of the 400 freestyle relay kept alive Phelps’ dream to win eight gold medals at the Beijing Olympics.
But history and sentiment count for nothing at the Olympic trials. Lezak won the final spot on this year’s relay team, finishing sixth in the 100 freestyle Friday.
Lezak did not qualify for Friday’s final until Lochte, with multiple tickets to London already punched, dropped out so he could conserve energy for other events. In the 2008 trials, Lezak finished second in the 100 free, in 48.05 seconds.
Nathan Adrian won the event on Friday in 48.10, with Cullen Jones second in 48.46 and Lezak sixth in 48.88.
“I felt terrible,” said Lezak, who lives in Irvine. “This 36-year-old body felt run down.”
Phelps welcomed Lezak’s return to the relay.
“He’s definitely somebody good to have on the team,” Phelps said.
Lezak figures to swim the preliminary relay heat in London, then yield to a younger and faster swimmer. Then again, Lezak swam his Beijing leg in 46.06, almost two seconds faster than his personal best in the 100 free.
“He’s Superman,” Jones said. “You never know what he’s going to do.”
Scott Weltz did not fall in love with UC Davis at first sight. All he could see off Interstate 80 was an In-N-Out Burger and a water tower, and he cringed at the thought of attending college there.
Weltz is the unlikeliest man to make the Olympic swim team. He won the 200 breaststroke Friday, four years after finishing 37th in the event.
He wore one UC Davis T-shirt on the awards podium, another to his news conference. He did swim for UC Davis after all, and he still trains there, but the shirt seemed incongruous because the school cut its men’s swim team two years ago.
“I do it just so people remember,” Weltz said. “We’re a little more difficult to get rid of than they thought.”
The J is silent
Breeja Larson said she has been amazed by the public recognition in the two days since her surprise victory in the women’s 100 breaststroke.
“A lot of people pronounce my name as Bree-jah rather than Bree-yah,” Larson said. “Having a lot of little girls pronounce my name right, I’m like, ‘Sure, I’ll sign your shirt.’ ”
Her name reflects her Swedish descent. Her parents considered Americanizing the spelling to Bria but decided it would be too close to Brian.
Larson, who grew up in Arizona and attends Texas A&M;, said the silent J in her first name trips up most Americans.
“Mexican substitute teachers get it right,” she said. “All the foreigners get it right.”
The Olympians selected Friday in individual events: Adrian and Jones in the men’s 100 free, Weltz and Clark Burckle in the men’s 200 breaststroke; Cammille Adams and Kathleen Hersey in the women’s 200 butterfly. ... Amanda Beard might swim the tiniest bit slower because she does not take off her wedding rings when she competes, but she removed them once and did not fare well. “I guess it’s kind of like the baseball player thing,” she said. “They’re my good luck charm.”