Move over, Sandy Koufax. Lenny Krayzelburg, America’s triple Olympic gold-medalist swimmer, intends to skip the World Championships in Japan in order to compete at the Maccabiah Games next July in Israel.
"I have never been to Israel and I would really like to go there and compete," Krayzelburg told the Reuters news service. "It is a very important part of my heritage."
The 25-year-old athlete said he might reconsider his decision if violence in the Middle East escalates between now and July. But he emphasized that the so- called "Jewish Olympics" were his first choice.
Born in Odessa, Ukraine, Krayzelburg left the Soviet Union with his parents in 1989, when he was 13, in part to escape anti-Semitism.
He captured the gold at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia, in both the 100- and 200-meter backstroke, both in Olympic record time, and led off the U.S. world record-setting 4X100 medley relay team.
In a recent interview, Krayzelburg said that he plans to work with Jewish and immigrant children.
"I may be wrong, but there might be a perception that Jewish kids are not athletic," he said. "Maybe I can change that trend."
Krayzelburg said that he plans to swim competitively through the 2004 Olympics in Athens. By then he’ll be 29, which is old for a world-class swimmer.
Three other Jewish American Olympic swimming medalists – Anthony Ervin, who tied for gold in the 50-meter freestyle, and relay silver medalists Jason Lezak and Scott Goldblatt – may also participate in the Maccabiah Games.
However, the three qualified their plans, saying that if they can make the American team, they’ll head for the World Championships instead.
"Lenny has already experienced worlds, and I have not," said Lezak.