Personality: Lenny Krayzelburg

The Best Backstroker In The World


Nikki Dryden

Lenny Krayzelburg is anything but your typical Los Angeles resident. True, he is a star in the making, but this modest two-time world champion cares more about his next workout than the bright lights of Hollywood. Born in Odessa, in the Ukraine, he moved to the US with his family in 1989, and was granted citizenship in 1995. On deck amongst friends, Krayzelburg has adopted the casual attitude typical of many a Californian, but put him in the water and there is nothing laid back about this fiercely competitive athlete. When this rising star gets his fifteen minutes of fame, it will be from years dedicated to the art of swimming, which he hopes to do faster than anyone else on this planet.

Fame has already begun to descend on Krayzelburg. In April, he broke his own national record in the 200 backstroke at the US spring nationals in New York, with a 1:56.95. The 25-year-old also came within 0.38 seconds of breaking the world record set in 1991 by Spain's Martin Zubero. Remarkably, Krayzelburg was both unshaved and untapered. "Going 1:56 is the biggest surprise of my life, definitely in my swimming career. I only did a four-day taper coming into this meet, so this just gives me unbelievable confidence going into the summer."

After his 1:56.95 he has unbelievable confidence going into the summer
Click image for larger photo. Photo © Marco Chiesa

Krayzelburg graduated from the University of Southern California last spring and continues to train in LA with his coach Mark Schubert. For most swimmers who continue to swim after college the benefits of remaining with their college program far outweigh any difficulties that may arise. "The past two months have been hard, especially when people started to taper for conference, but the good thing about working with Mark is that he has been very flexible with me. I spent two weeks training at altitude in Colorado Springs last month because I knew there wouldn't be a lot of attention at school with NCAAs coming up."

Over the four years a swimmer spends at college, many relationships are developed, and those loyalties extend long after a swimmer's eligibility is over. Coaches, trainers, doctors, and other support staff remain dedicated to the many athletes who continue to train at their colleges. At USC, the Trojan Family wants to see its athletes continue to succeed after graduation. "During the rest of the year the environment at USC is great. It also helps me that there are five other post grads on the team. This (mini)-group is able to create a pretty good training atmosphere." Although Krayzelburg and other post grads across the country take advantage of the US training center in Colorado, he has no intention of leaving sunny California. "I love LA, Colorado Springs is too boring for me. I've worked with Mark since 1994 and we are very compatible, and I have no reason to leave."

Although he is undoubtedly the best backstroker in the world heading into next year's Olympic Games, Krayzelburg exudes a quiet confidence and is the first to give credit to his coaches and teammates. For four years he trained at USC with 200 backstroke Olympic gold medallist Brad Bridgewater. However, in mid-March Bridgewater left the program and headed across town to the rival Irvine Novaquatics. There he trains with two other backstroke standouts, Bobby Brewer and Adam Peirsol, both of whom covet the same spots on the US Olympic team. For Krayzelburg, the loss of Bridgewater as a training partner was great. "I attribute a lot of my success to Brad. When I came here in '94, I was still a rookie and I didn't know a lot of things, but just from watching the way he trains I learned so much. The man trains amazingly in the water and I can still pick up many things from him. I hope Brad comes back because he definitely makes me better and I like to think I helped him get better also."

Krayzelburg believes much of his success can be ascribed to his dry-land training program. In addition to his water workouts, where he averages 15-16 km a day, Krayzelburg does VASA training, runs, does medicine balls, and lifts weights. "I definitely attribute my being able to swim so fast to weight training, I try to run three to four times a week as well. I think it's good conditioning for my legs, which is what you need in backstroke." In fact, Krayzelburg lifted weights twice the week preceding the US nationals.

For now, Krayzelburg seems poised for gold medals and world records. As befits a dedicated champion, he feels the need to concentrate on his health and take advantage of his current training situation, with or without his best training partner. Out for three weeks in early January with a strained lower back, Krayzelburg hopes to drop more time at Pan Pacs in Sydney this summer. "We have a good bunch of swimmers at USC and there are some freestyle guys I can train backstroke against, so that will turn out well. With some real rest I hope I can drop some more time, hopefully 0.38 seconds!"

In one year's time it is unlikely that Lenny Krayzelburg will have a star on the Hollywood walk of fame. But if all goes well, he will go down in history and have his name painted on the wall of the pool at Indy as a member of the 2000 US Olympic Swim Team.