Soviet Jewish Émigré Makes a Splash and Nabs 4 Olympic Gold Medals

As a young boy of 9, Lenny Krayzelburg loved to swim and practiced five hours a day at a pool in Odessa. He became chosen as part of the Soviet Empire’s Olympic training machine, where they find talent at a young age to become sports superstars.

But, his parents became concerned about their son’s future, and that being Jewish would limit his chances, so they immigrated to America and landed in Los Angeles.

There, he found a pool at the Westside Jewish Community Center and practiced on his own while working 30 hours a week to support his family. He trained well, but was discouraged, and needed some challenges. 

His father, Oleg, kept encouraging him, and talked him many times out of giving up.

At 17, Lenny joined Santa Monica City College in 1993, and resumed his swimming training. Coach Stu Blumkin noticed the boy’s potential and helped him get a scholarship to the University of Southern California. 

There, coach Mark Schubert helped Lenny get into swimming competitions, and by his sophomore year, Lenny shocked everyone and qualified for the 1996 Olympic trials. He had the second best time in the 200-meter heats, and was a complete unknown.

Now, Lenny is the Community Relations director at Sportamix, and he sees how the innovative online site can help students find coaches in a much easier way than when he started.

“If you look at athletes and teenagers throughout the world, a majority are not known and can excel incredibly in their own sport but there is no way for them to be known,” Lenny said. “Creating a platform like this is a perfect medium for them to share their resume, even as teenagers, and put themselves out there for the public to see. It is as incredible, thought-out concept.”

Lenny added, “Sportamix can have an incredible impact on how popular collegiate coaches can find young talent. They can now be watching at 15-16 years of age and now have a platform to engage that connection at early years, and by the time a decision needs to be made, they can see the progress the young athlete has had.”

The first time Lenny qualified for the Olympics in 1996, he didn’t make the team. The top two swimmers would be eligible for the games in Atlanta, but Lenny readily admits he wasn’t ready emotionally. All he had to do was repeat the times he had achieved earlier that morning, but instead came in fifth place.

For the next four years, Lenny trained for the next Olympic Games in Sydney. Along the way, he broke an unprecedented three world records in the 50, 100 and 200-meter backstroke competitions in August 1999 and won three gold medals at the Pan American Pacific Championship.

Lenny Krayzelburg talks about the value of Sportamix for young athletes.

And, at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Lenny won gold medals in the 100-meter backstroke, 200-meter backstroke and 400-meter medley relay, and broke two Olympic records. Four years later, he returned to the Olympics and won a fourth gold medal in the relay.

In the meantime, Lenny was a finalist for the U.S. Olympic Committee Sportsman of the Year in 1998, and chosen USA Swimmer of the Year in both 1999 and 2000. In 2001, he was inducted into the Southern California Jewish Sports Hall of Fame and USC Hall of Fame, and is a member of the International Jewish Hall of Fame.

The highest honor of being part of the International Swimming Hall of Fame, came to him in May 2011.

He founded the Lenny Krayzelburg Swim Academy in five locations across the United States, pledging to teach children to be safe in the water and inspire the love for water. He is married and has twin daughters, Daniella and Alexa.

“As a coach I see Sportamix as a perfect platform to keep an eye out on athletes,” Lenny said. “It’s all about connection and having good synergy with the coach and athlete. I wish it was around when I started.”

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