(JTA) — Four-time gold medalist Jason Lezak, competing in likely what is his final Olympics, helped the American swim team qualify for the 4×100-meter freestyle relay finals.
Lezak swam in the morning preliminaries on Sunday but did not compete that evening in the finals, when the U.S. took the silver medal.
For Lezak it was his eighth medal overall in four Olympics. His gold medals have come as a member of relay teams; he won an individual bronze at the Beijing Games in 2008.
The Americans led all the way in Sunday’s final until Yannick Agnel of France pulled ahead of Ryan Lochte in the final lap. France finished first in 3 minutes, 9.93 seconds, ahead of the United States (3:10.38) and Russia (3:11.41).
The race was similar to four years ago in Beijing, when Lezak overtook the French world record-holder Alain Bernard in the final 25 meters despite being nearly a full body length behind on the last lap. It was the fastest 100-meter freestyle split in history, by nearly six-tenths of a second, and earned victory for the U.S. and kept alive Michael Phelps’ drive for a record-setting eight gold medals.
Lezak, who was inducted into the National Jewish Hall of Fame in 2010, helped Lochte and Phelps qualify for the relay’s finals.
“The coaches had a tough decision to make with so many talented 100 freestylers and then the two best all-around swimmers in the world,” Lezak told FOXSports.com late Sunday via email. “Of course I would have liked to be a part of the final. If you asked any of us who swam prelims they would have answered it the same.”
Lezak, 36, has not specifically said this is his last Olympics, but he is the oldest swimmer on the U.S. men’s squad. He is one of the five captains for the 530-member American contingent.
“As the body gets older, sometimes the mind wants to go hard for a lot longer. But I’ve learned over the course of the last several years how many laps is enough, how many is too much,” he told the Los Angeles Times.
Since his historic comeback at the Beijing Olympics, Lezak has participated in Israel’s Maccabiah Games, winning four gold medals last summer, and has taught swimming clinics for neighborhood kids at the Merage Jewish Community Center of Orange County in Southern California. He has two children and is an active member of Temple Isaiah in Newport Beach, Calif.
“It’s something for me to get in touch more with Jewish kids and hopefully inspire them,” he told JTA. “I really didn’t have anyone like that growing up.”