Jewish-American swimmers Garret Weber-Gale and Jason Lezak, along with Cullen Jones and the unstoppable Olympic champion Michael Phelps, made history in the pool on Monday, August 11. The US relay team won the Men’s 4 x 100m Freestyle Relay and smashed the world record by nearly four seconds on their way to the gold.
In a strange Jewish sports irony, the gold for this half-Jewish team may come at a price to the legacy of an iconic Jewish sports figure. Phelps needed this gold medal to help him on his quest to break legendary Jewish swimmer Mark Spitz’s 36- year-old record of seven gold medals in one Olympics. With the relay gold under his cap, Phelps is on his way to eight in ’08.
But at least a new Jewish name can be added to the annals of Olympic swim glory, for the sports world will be talking about Lezak’s outstanding anchor leg to edge out Alain Bernard and the French team for a long time.
“Going out in the first 50 (meters), I was breathing on my right side,” Lezak said after the race. “I saw him (competitor Bernard) a little bit. I knew where he was. I knew I had to swim my mind out. I had more adrenaline going than I ever had in my life.”
As JTA’s Marc Brodsky reported in a feature about Lezak, the 32-year-old is competing in his third Olympics and has garnered four medals on relay teams, including a gold in the 4×100 medley in ’04.
A third Jewish-American swimmer actually took home a gold for this team, even though he wasn’t in the pool for the historic win. Ben Wildman-Tobriner, the other member of the self-described “hyphenated Jew crew,” is among the seven swimmers on the 4×100 relay team who received a gold medal.