Jason Lezak made the impossible possible on 11 August 2008. When the USA swimmer hit the water in the anchor leg of the men’s 4x100m freestyle relay final, he was more than half-a-body length behind France’s Alain Bernard – the man who had gone into the race as the 100m freestyle world record holder. Teammate Michael Phelps’ uber-hyped assault on fellow swimmer Mark Spitz’s legendary record of seven gold medals in one Olympic Games appeared dead and buried. But over the course of the next 46.06 seconds Lezak turned the world upside down.
“A lot of times I watch it now as if I am a spectator not the swimmer and honestly I can’t believe it happened,” Lezak said with an infectious laugh. “Forget the speed or the times, he (Bernard) was the world record holder so you wouldn’t imagine someone to pass him from that distance.”
Almost 11 years have passed, but Lezak can recall almost every stroke he took.
“There were obviously lots of nerves before and during the race, but once it got to the point where Cullen (Jones, the USA’s third-leg swimmer) is coming in and I am standing on the block, everything just went away. I was in the zone, I was where I needed to be, focused on doing my race for my team,” Lezak explained.
“On the first 50m I was breathing to my right and he was on my left, so I didn’t really peek to see where he was because I knew that would slow me down. As I got to the 50m (mark) I saw he had increased the lead and my motivation wasn’t very strong. I was thinking, ‘Oh the world record holder is even further ahead of me’.”
So far, so predictable perhaps. But something changed when the USA man turned for home and began swimming towards his teammates, Phelps and all.
“Coming off that wall I felt better than I had probably ever felt before, swimming as fast as I had swum that first 50m. I honestly think my body was just reacting to the situation,” Lezak said, the excitement still evident in his voice.
“The next 50m I could see him breathing every stroke and as I got closer and closer, I had the motivation to go. And I felt another surge of adrenaline, which wasn’t something I had ever felt before. That enabled me to keep my speed up all the way into the wall.”