Jason Lezak Decides to Retire at 37; Will Be Remembered for “The Anchor”

  33 Braden Keith | January 15th, 2013 | Featured, National, News

For the last two Olympics, American swimmer Jason Lezak was the oldest man on the United States Olympic Swim Team. Having no desire to make it a third, the 37-year old Lezak has officially announced his retirement today, wrapping a spectacular career that has spanned four Olympics and 8 medals (4 gold, 2 silver, and 2 bronze).

Lezak, though, was more to the American team than just a collection of 8 medals. He was one of the great leaders in swimming history, and gave the sport a moment it will never forget: the final leg of the 2008 Beijing 400 free relay.

Lezak anchors the 4x100 free relay, nearly a second behind Bernard at the 2008 Olympics. (Credit: Lahalle/Presse)

Lezak anchors the 4×100 free relay, nearly a second behind Bernard at the 2008 Olympics. (Credit: Lahalle/Presse)

Not that any fans need reminding of this relay, but Lezak hit the water nearly a body-length behind France’s Alain Bernard, who was the World Record holder and swimming as well as any sprinter we’ve ever seen. It looked like the French would have the race in the bag, even headed into the final 50 meters. Then, Lezak unfathomably turned on his ever-incredible engine and ran down the Frenchman.

In itself, this swim was one of the top 3 moments in swimming history, unquestionably, and without accepting of any debate. Adding in what his teammate Michael Phelps was in the midst of accomplishing, with his record-setting 8 Olympic gold medal performance, and this swim was elevated into another stratosphere as the greatest, and most iconic swimming moment ever.

Michael Phelps roars in celebration after Lezak's heroic anchor leg at the 2008 Olympics. (Credit: Martin/Presse)

Michael Phelps roars in celebration after Lezak’s heroic anchor leg at the 2008 Olympics. (Credit: Martin/Presse)

“No matter how my individual performances went at worlds, Olympics, and so on, I always wanted to step up on relays for the team and our country,” Lezak said. “The 400 free relay was one of the greatest moments of my career. I was apart of 6 consecutive years (1999-2004) of losing that relay at international competitions after the USA had never lost before, which included 2 Olympics. It felt great to bring the title back to the USA.”

Lezak is a Southern California boy, born and bred, from Irvine High School through his independent training grounds at Rose Bowl Aquatics. For a man who was such a leader and so looked-up-to within the National Team, he still amazingly trained himself over his last two Olympics without a coach or a training partner.

The relay swim is what he will perhaps be best remembered for by swim fans; athletes, though, always have their own favorite moments, and in a career as long as this one was, there were plenty of higlights. For Lezak, one year that stood out was in 2004, before he achieved his lofty legendary status when he broke the American Record in the 100 free.

Lezak wins individual hardware in the 100 free at the 2008 Olympics.

Lezak wins individual hardware in the 100 free at the 2008 Olympics.

“I swam faster than my childhood idol Matt Biondi for the first time in that race,” Lezak reminisced about his great career. “That’s a moment I’ll never forget. I also often think back on another swim from Beijing, where I won my first Olympic medal (bronze in the 100 free, tied with Cesar Cielo). I’d been 4th or 5th over-and-over again at big international competitions, and that swim finally broke me through.”

He was a unique man. In 2009, when he sat atop the heap as one of the world’s great stars of swimming, Lezak skipped the World Championships to instead represent the United States at the 2009 Maccabiah Games. “This is the perfect time in my career to do something like this,” he said of the decision.

That was a big moment for Lezak. He was very proud of his Jewish heritage, and stands among the greatest Jewish swimmers of all time. That’s no short list, either, including names like Mark Spitz, Dara Torres, Garrett Weber-Gale, and Lenny Krayzelburg.

He almost retired after 2008. His agent, Evan Morgenstein, says he was “very close.”

The two had a very special relationship, so this is a big moment for Morgenstein as well. “He was one of my first athletes and we got to grow up in the sport together, we traveled all over the world together. I think that’s one of the things that makes Jason very special to me as a client.”

“[After Beijing] we weren’t sure about an apparel deal, he was doing a lot of speeches but the economy tanked within 60 days of the Beijing Games’ end,” Morganstein said. “We kept discussing whether or not we actually needed Jason in the water competing to do speeches, clinics, etc. We ultimately decided that Jason still had a passion, and that more than the money was why he decided that he was going to try and make the 2012 team. Winning an individual medal I think was a big part of it.”

Lezak would go on to win one more medal, a silver on the 400 free relay, to cap his career. He will now step away to impart decades of experience and wisdom with others through clinics, motivational speaking, and plans to start his own series of swim camps.

For all of his accomplishments, whenever anybody thinks the name “Lezak,” their mind will always go back to that one illustrious swim, that one moment, where he took down the mighty French. He’s become so pervasive that he’s even been verbified – if you get run down at the end of a relay, you’ve been ‘Lezak’ed’. Swimming seasons, swimming careers, are long and grueling. As a sport, we live for those incredible moments, at the end of a season, at the end of a quadrenial, at the end of a decade of work; those moments that give us chills in our spines and bring tears to our eyes. There’s no “running out the clock” in swimming. There’s no “kneeling” in swimming. Swimming lives, breathes, labors and dies for the kind of experiences that Lezak gave us all on that fateful moment.

Where were you when Lezak won gold?

You can follow Lezak on Twitter here. 

Jason Lezak is represented by Evan Morgenstein, Founder/CEO PMG Sports.

Comments

  1. Gauchos4Life says:
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    Awesome guy, awesome swimmer. Will always remember that relay. Proud to be an alum with him. Go Gauchos!

    • Ryan says:
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      “Enormous ups to Gaucho and Irvine resident Jason Lezak for perhaps delivering the signature moment of the entire games in Beijing.

      “Sure, Michael Phelps is a beast and is still on track for his 8 gold medals, but he’s not where he is without Lezak’s monster anchor leg in the 4 x 100 relay. Lezak ran down France’s Alain Bernard, who was the world record holder in the 100 free—the same Bernard who foolishly bumped his gums before the race saying the French would smash the Americans. If by smash, you mean get punked by and humiliated internationally by them, then I agree, you smashed the U.S.!

      “Who do you think you are, talking that kind of junk to the U.S.?! More importantly, running that smack about a Gaucho! Remember these four letters, Bernard, U-C-S-B! Lezak is a Gaucho! Of course he ripped your heart out and shamed your entire nation! That’s what Gauchos do! They show up when it matters most. And, deliver life-altering performances. We’re Gauchos. That’s how we get down! And we don’t just let anyone in our pool.

      “Doesn’t the French team do any scouting? Because if you did, you would have known we had a Gaucho in the final leg and you would have never run your mouth so recklessly and dangerously. From one Gaucho to another, Jason, unbelievable effort! The ultimate example of a guy manning up, running down a world record holder, from a body length back and closing the show with a gold!

      “Now you all know what we’ve always known, when you need something and you need something done right, send in a Gaucho. Jason, when you get back, dinner on me at Javier’s in Crystal Cove!”

      -Jim Rome-

  2. cynthiacurran says:
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    Well, starting with Janet Evans the OC Olympians started being born in the county. Before that the Bashashoffs-Shirley, Jack, Bill and Debbie were born in Whitter in La County close. And Brian Goodell in Fresno. The Furness brothers Steve and Bruce were born in the midwest, maybe not all of them. Jason, Amanda Beard and Aarion Perisol born in Orange County.

  3. cynthiacurran says:
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    Jason stayed very long in the sport which is rare to make it to 37 years at the elite level.Many do it in masters. Torres has a spanish surname but is Jewish which might mean someone in the family came from Spain.

  4. slick says:
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    Watching that relay was such a rush! It took me from the lowest low to the highest high in a matter of seconds! I remember I had sunk down into the depths my chair cushion, feeling utterly sad (for Phelps and Team USA) and defeated, and then seconds later I had leaped into the air and was screaming and yelling my head off! What a ride! And I’ll never forget it, thanks to the Legendary Lezak! I tip my cap to you, sir!

  5. Evilwatersprite says:
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    Lots of Olympians win medals; very few become verbs. Thank you, Jason, for one of the sports’s most thrilling races and for being a steadfast presence on the team for so long. Enjoy the next phase of your life!

  6. parent says:
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    People will credit Phelps for his overall 2008 performance, but anyone who watched Lezak going into the water achoring the 4x100free, chasing after the then-current world record holder in the 100 free (that roided-up French guy)….and then loosing ground by the turn, and then somehow willing himself to the wall first, KNOWS that LEZAK gave the single best swimming performance in history – PERIOD! Live long and prosper!!!

  7. Matt Smith says:
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    That relay was amazing to watch, even though I knew the result (thanks NBC tape delay on the west coast) it was unbelievably thrilling to watch. He is a very humble superstar, and I wish him all the best. I may be most impressed by his training alone for the olympics. It takes a special kind of person to accomplish that, as anyone who has spent hours in the pool can attest. All the best in retirement Jason.

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    Dear Mr. Lezak,

    I think I can speak for all members of USMS that we can’t wait for you to stop by for a race or two. Rowdy’s racing Masters and your hero, Matt Biondi, was even seen at a meet last year. Come on by and join the Masters party. There’s no need to retire — swimming and racing swimming is lifelong (and provides long life).

  9. anonymous says:
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    Hey Jason…words simply cannot express how special that one race was. I know that your swimming and your life certainly encompass so much more, but to give Americans such an incredible memory of one leg of a race… it’s nothing short of amazing. It is my favorite race of any Olympic swimmer EVER. You are a great athlete, and I hope you will enjoy your life with a few less pruned fingers as you enjoy less time in the water. You can show that race to your children and grandkids, and they will think you’re the absolute coolest, just like we do. God bless you.

  10. bobo gigi says:
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    As a French I was sad for France but at the same time, as a Michael Phelps fan, I was happy for him. I wouldn’t have had the same reaction if another country had beaten France. And look at Michael after the race. He becomes crazy. It’s great to watch. We thought after the race that Alain Bernard would be mentally killed but he has incredibly responded with his gold medal in the 100 free. For Jason Lezak it was his day and thanks to him Michael has won the most difficult race of his schedule.

  11. cynthiacurran says:
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    Jewish and Cuban explains Dara last time. Some great Cuban swimmers Pablo Morales and Dara Torres and Ryan Loche- his mother’s size.

  12. SEC_G8R says:
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    Jason is a great guy. He and I where on our first national team together and he definitely kept the mood light!! I was always happy to see him swim well. Good luck to him in the future and maybe see him at a masters meet…sometime.

    • jeantuehl says:
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      Don’t forget who got their revenge in 2012. Does the name Agnel ring a bell? But it still stings the defeat in 2008 (but good for Phelps to get his 8 and great swim for Jason).

  13. jeantuehl says:
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    Don’t forget who got their revenge in 2012. Does the name Agnel ring a bell? But it still stings the defeat in 2008 (but good for Phelps to get his 8 and great swim for Jason).

  14. anotherswimfan says:
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    I remember very well. I was on a vacation in France with my brother watching the Olympics on television at our hotel at like 3AM. We heard a french couple shouting rapidly (you know that incomprehensible rattling they’re so good at :P) in the room next to us during the final 50 meters.

  15. Philip Johnson says:
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    Just thinking what kind of career Phelps could have if he swims as long as Lezak … anyways, Lezak’s performance on that leg was the greatest of all-time and he will be missed!

    • Liliana says:
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      Do we really want to see a 37-year-old Phelps in the pool, being a shadow of his former self?

      • Amy says:
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        Michael is already done. You could tell this last Olympics. He wasn’t hungry anymore, his heart wasn’t really there. I mean, I know you’re amazing and all, but could you at least appear to make an effort? He looked kinda sloppy. It was kinda like, ok I’ve got nothing better to do let’s go to the Olympics. Might win a few more medals, whatever. Lochte talked a lot of trash, and was kinda hot and cold. This Olympics was pretty blah compared to 2008.

        Jason Lezak is my hero. Phelps of course is amazing, but I don’t care how many medals he won, that relay swim by Lezak was the most epic race of all time! And he trains himself, I mean seriously, this guy is incredible!

        • David says:
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          Agreed. Phelps lost the 200 fly because he was terrible into every wall. Definitely a bit rusty and not training nearly as hard or as often as he used to. Very apparent.

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    I was heading back from Central Zones (2008 MEGA ZONES) as the Team Iowa – Head Coach on our LSC’s charter bus for the older swimmers and coaching staff. My cell phone started going crazy (my older swimmers, club staff, my wife, EVEN my older brothers who were not swimmers) getting a bunch of calls and texts. One of my asst. coaches at the time sent me the splits / final results and I knew it had to be an amazing swim. Finally watched it the next morning when I arrived at my in-laws house and still got goose bumps seeing the last 40 meters.

    Hats off to an amazing career (I will let the whole UCSB thing slide as a UNLV fan). Mr. Lezak was always a class act at Grand Prix and National meets I attended. Good luck with everything in the future to Jason & family!

  17. vasili says:
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    great career Jason! we’re proud of you

  18. Ben says:
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    I make sure to watch that race before all of my big meets. I get an adrenaline rush just watching it.

  19. Maja says:
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    Jason’s career and longevity in swimming is outstanding and him training alone is even more incredible and shows what great character in the sport he has; character and will power that essentially helped him swim that unforgettable anchor leg. His swim on the 2008 relay is probably the greatest moment in olympic history, not to mention a fine example of what being in a team means – without Jason Lezak there wouldn’t be 8 medals… I have to admit, every time I’m in need of a little inspiration I just watch that race.

    As anonymous said above – you are the absolute coolest!

    p.s. As an Israeli I’m incredibly proud he took part in the Maccabia games – very cool indeed!

  20. Steve Nolan says:
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    I don’t care what anyone says, that relay leg was the best ever.

  21. Dasher says:
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    I remember watching that race at home on our LCD HD TV, and when Jason jumped into the pool, and throughout the first 50, Rowdy kept on talking as if the race was already over. But after the turn, I noticed that Bernard was swimming closer to the side of Lezak’s lane and that Lezak masterfully had moved all the way to the edge of his lane in order to catch Bernard’s wake. I said to my wife, “It’s not over yet!”, and sure enough, Bernard got a little tired in the last 10 m and Lezak had an incredible finish! I think that although he was older than the average swimmer (32), in this case his experience really helped him swim the perfect race. In addition to drafting on that second fifty, he did not panic and over swim the first 50. Great swimmer, great teammate! Jason will be missed.

  22. Nicole says:
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    Whenever I feel down, or if I’m lacking motivation, I always remember that 400 free relay with Lezak. What a race! It gives me goosebumps just thinking about it!

  23. Jason Zajonc says:
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    He is a class act 100%. His swimming and his professional manner are gold medal worthy all the way. Total american hero in the swimming world. Phelps should have bought him a car for the swim…along with all his relay swimmers….awesome guy!

  24. Chernobill says:
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    That swim in Beijing – amazing made one’s heart soar. Also proves that no matter how many floatation, smoothie, body squashing suits someone wears they will still get beat by a better swimmer.

  25. Matt says:
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    What a great career! I really wish he would have had one last shot in 2012 on the 4×100 relay. He swam a great split in the prelims and was only there for that event. But the US coach put LOCHTE at anchor! What? Lochte had miles on him already and the 100 is not his event. Lezak would have held off the Frenchies…he was older but fresh, and the 100 is his money event. Jason, you should have had one more shot at gold….but congrats on a great career and I will never forget 2008!

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