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U.S. swimmer Jason Lezak is focused on Pan Pacific Championships, but happy to revist Olympic glory

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By Amy Shipley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 20, 2010; 12:19 AM

IRVINE, CALIF. - Talking about his 46.06 seconds of fame still gives Jason Lezak goose bumps. He admits he has watched video of the stirring race a couple hundred times. Even two years later, grinning people still tap him on the shoulder in airports. They want autographs and photos, and they always have the same question: "How did you do that?"

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Even now, Lezak cannot explain how he improbably chased down a heavily favored Frenchman on the last leg of the 4x100-meter relay in Beijing as an entire nation held its breath. His electric finish ensured that Michael Phelps kept alive his quest for eight gold medals at the 2008 Summer Games.

"In Beijing, it was a great feeling, a great team," Lezak said hours before finishing fourth and just 0.09 of a second out of the medals in the 100-meter freestyle final at the Pan Pacific Championships on Thursday night. "But I didn't really understand what it meant until I came home. People always want to talk about it.

"It was one of those out-of-body experiences. I did something I didn't know was possible. There was a lot behind it."

Lezak, who will swim a leg for the U.S. men's 4x100 relay team here Friday, hopes there's a lot ahead of it, too. He's now 34, with lines around his eyes and three Olympics on his rsum. He became a father last November, and, when his wife returned to full-time work as a nurse, he also became primary caretaker for his infant son Ryan. He lacks a coach and suit sponsor and makes most of his money giving motivational speeches - talking about the relay, of course.

Yet he is still swimming fast, evidenced by the fact he laid down the second-best time (48.47 seconds) in Thursday morning's heats of the 100 free, then followed that with a 48.57 in the night's final, behind only American Nathan Adrian (48.15), Canadian Brent Hayden (48.19) and Brazil's Cesar Cielo (48.48). "He's a giant," U.S. teammate Ryan Lochte said.

"I would have liked to make it to the medal stand, but I've got two more years," Lezak said after the race. "Hopefully, I'll be able to make it there."

Indeed, Lezak is still dreaming of more magical moments in another Olympic Games. Everyone remembers his miracle relay leg. Almost no one remembers he won his only individual Olympic medal - a bronze - in the 100 freestyle in those Games.

He's already cemented his place in American sports lore; now he'd like to create some more good stories.

"I still feel like I can be better," he said. "I still have that competitive nature in me."

The competitiveness has been on display during an unexpectedly successful month. Lezak showed up at the national championships here two weeks ago, where he finished third in the 100 freestyle final, having raced just twice this year and not very well at that. His wife took time off from her nursing job this summer to allow him to chase a spot at these championships, but before then, he attempted to do the necessary training around her 12-hour nursing shifts.

His swimming, naturally, suffered. He didn't know what to expect here.


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