- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 19, 2000

SYDNEY, Australia The sound of the national anthem means more to some people than others. For those who have seen firsthand what life is like outside the land of the free, it often means more.
It meant a lot to Lenny Krayzelburg when he heard it yesterday while he stood with an Olympic gold medal around his neck at the Sydney International Aquatics Center.
Krayzelburg, the immigrant youngster from Odessa in the former Soviet Union, capped off his American dream story by winning the gold in the 100-meter backstroke yesterday. He set an Olympic record with a time of 53.72 seconds, 0.35 seconds ahead of second-place finisher Matthew Welsh of Australia.
Krayzelburg stood proudly, almost stoically, and listened as they played the "Star-Spangled Banner" and raised the American flag.
Then, to the cheers of the Australian crowd, with his Russian parents in the stands his mother wearing an Uncle Sam hat and a red, white and blue shirt, waving an American flag Krayzelburg broke into a wide grin and waved to the crowd as the song that meant so much to him and his family ended.
"It was pretty emotional for me," he said. "I tried to keep my emotions to myself, but I guess during the anthem I was playing back everything that had happened to me in the past 11 years."
What happened was this 24-year-old young man who had come to the United States at the age of 13 with his parents, had not only made his dreams come true, but that of his parents as well.
"I felt so happy," said his mother, Yelena Krayzelburg. "Our dreams had come true. Life was very difficult for us in Russia. There were so many problems. We had so little there."
Last night, the Krayzelburg family had everything including a son who took the time in his moment of glory to acknowledge what his parents had done for him and the support they gave him.
"They made a lot of sacrifices, and it finally paid off," Krayzelburg said.
His family had lived in Russia for nearly 50 years by the time of the war in Afghanistan, when the Russians were sending young men there to fight. Service was mandatory in the Soviet Union, and his parents feared their son would go off to war. That, combined with the fears of anti-Semitism in their homeland, pushed his parents to leave.
His father, Oleg, who managed a coffee shop in Odessa, became a cook in West Hollywood, Calif. Yelena, a former accountant, worked at a pharmacy. They built a new life in California, and Krayzelburg, who swam competitively in the Soviet Union, would go on to excel at Santa Monica City College and then the University of Southern California, where he won an NCAA title in 1997.
The following year he emerged as the swimmer to watch in Sydney when he won two gold medals at the 1998 world championships.
It may have been a foregone conclusion that Krayzelburg would win the gold. He is considered the premier backstroker in the world. He is the world champion in the 100-meter and 200-meter backstroke, and also holds the 50-meter backstroke world record. The gold was his to win, unless he committed some sort of blunder or was victimized by a once-in-a-lifetime race by an opponent.
The way the race began, that possibility seemed to be close to reality, as Krayzelburg got off to a mediocre start. But he led after 50 meters, and maintained the lead the rest of the way, holding off a surge by Welsh. Stev Theloke of Germany finished third for the bronze.
No one will remember Welsh's second or Theloke's third-place finish. They remember gold.
"You are measured in this sport by whether or not you win a gold medal," Krayzelburg said. "I am glad I have one."
The marketing opportunities for a gold-medal winner is a wide difference from second-place finishers, and nearly nonexistent for favorites who fail to win. Earlier this year, Krayzelburg was named one of the "50 Most Beautiful People" by People magazine, and likely will reap the benefits that come with being tall, good-looking, personable and an Olympic gold medalist with a good story to tell a story that Krazyelburg downplayed yesterday.
"There's nothing magical about it," said Krayzelburg, who became an American citizen in 1995. "The United States just gives you a lot of opportunities. It's up to you to take advantage of them."
His country gave him the opportunity to win a gold medal. Yesterday, Lenny Krazyzelburg took advantage of it.
Meanwhile, Megan Quann made it a double for the United States, backing up her prediction of victory over defending champion Penny Heyns of South Africa in the 100 breaststroke.
The 16-year-old from Puyallup, Wash., won in 1 minute, 7.05 seconds, but she was well off her intended target Heyns' world record of 1:06.52.
It was the fifth gold for the Americans in the pool in three days.
"I'd like to come out here, do it again and break the world record," she said.
Australian Leisel Jones won silver in 1:07.49. Heyns, who was first off the blocks and led until Quann passed her in the final 25 meters, took the bronze in 1:07.55.
Ian Thorpe, the Australian sensation who had already won two golds, lost a thrilling 200 freestyle race to Dutchman Pieter van den Hoogenband.
"In the last 25 meters, I was going full out," van den Hoogenband said. "Suddenly, I thought, 'God, he's not going to pass me.' "
With millions of swimming-crazed Aussies watching on television and thousands cheering in person, van den Hoogenband staged the biggest individual upset so far in the pool. He tied his own world record in 1:45.35.
"I would like to have gone a little bit faster, but you don't always get it your own way," said Thorpe, who won the 400 freestyle and anchored Australia's upset of the United States in the 400 freestyle relay Saturday.
"I'm not going to win every race. I'm not going to break every world record. It just can't happen," he said.
Diana Mocanu became the first Romanian swimmer to win a gold medal, taking the 100 backstroke in an Olympic record 1:00.21. Mocanu, who was third at 50 meters, won Romania's first swimming medal since 1988. She broke the old mark of 1:00.68 set by Krisztina Egerszegi of Hungary at the 1992 Olympics.
Mai Nakamura earned silver in 1:00.55, giving Japan its first backstroke medal since 1960. Nina Zhivanevskaya of Spain took bronze in 1:00.89.
This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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