Meet Olympic Gold-Medal Winner Lenny Krayzelburg: LK Swim Academy Comes to JCC

July 31 is your opportunity to meet a Jewish Olympic athlete who won four gold medals swimming for the U.S. team in the 2000 and 2004 Olympic games in Australia and Athens, respectively.


Lenny Krayzelburg will be at the Jewish Community Center that day to help launch the Lenny Krayzelburg Swim Academy here in Louisville. The day’s activities will include a special PJ Library Program with Lenny at 11 a.m., an introduction to the Swim Academy philosophy and techniques, prizes, fun and more.

Krayzelburg was born in the Ukraine and came to this country with his family in 1989. They settled in Los Angeles, and began to put down roots.

As a youth, Krayzelburg had shown great promise swimming in Odessa and was eager to pursue his interests on this side of the ocean. The Westside Jewish Community Center in L.A. not only provided him an opportunity to hone his skills in the water, but it opened the door and enabled the family to explore Judaism.

In 1990, as a teen, he competed in the Maccabi Youth Games. He also swam for Fairfax High School.

In 1993, Krayzelburg came under the tutelage of Santa Monica Community College swimming coach Stu Blumkin, who introduced him to University of Southern California swim coach Mark Shubert. The backstroke phenom was awarded a full USC athletic scholarship, majored in finance and investment, and graduated in 1998.

Krayzelburg won his first two U.S. national championships (100m and 200m) in 1996. Success at the 1997 NCAA Championships was his ‘breakthrough’, taking the 200m Backstroke title in the fourth fastest time in history.

As a backstroke champion, Krayzelburg has held five world records, setting three of them at the 1999 Pan Pacific Championships and two at the 2000 Olympics. He also set several American records.

Krayzelburg won numerous other titles, including gold medal victories in various events such as the 1998 Goodwill Games, 1999 and 2000 FINA World Cup meets, the Short Course World Championships, and 11 U.S. national titles in the 100m and 200m events.

He won his first gold medals in each of the three events he swam at the 2000 Olympic Games – 100-Meter Backstroke, 200-Meter Backstroke and 4×100-Meter Medley Relay, setting records in two of the three events.

Fresh off his Olympic victories, Krayzelburg skipped the 2001 World Championships, opting instead to join the U.S. Team at the World Maccabiah Games in Israel, where he won a pair of gold medals.

“This was my first experience in Israel,” he said. “It was a special time to be there as a Jew and I learned more about Jewish culture and history.”

Following the Maccabiah, Krayzelburg had surgery to repair an ailing left shoulder. Recovery kept him from competing in 2002. A problem with his left knee the following year forced Krayzelburg again under the knife, causing him to skip the 2003 World Championships. Nonetheless, just prior to the knee surgery, he won the 2003 U.S. National 100m Backstroke title, his 11th career U.S. championship.

Despite knee and shoulder surgeries that kept him out of most competition during the three years following the 2000 Games, Krayzelburg came back to qualify for the 2004 Athens Olympics and won a gold medal, his fourth, with the U.S. 4x100m Medley Relay team.

Krayzelburg was a finalist for United States Olympic Committee Sportsman of the Year in 1998, and was chosen USA Swimmer of the Year each of the following two years. In 2001, he was inducted in to the Southern California Jewish Sports Hall of Fame and USC Hall of Fame. He is a member of International Jewish Hall of Fame and in May 2011 Lenny’s swimming career was truly completed when he was inducted into International Swimming Hall of Fame.

While he was still swimming competitively, Krayzelburg began to consider what he would do next and focused on “doing a learn-to-swim academy for kids, and took a serious approach to it after the 2004 Olympics.”

Krayzelburg already had a long relationship with Jewish Community Centers across the U.S. Not only had he competed at many JCC swim events, but he had held swim clinics and swim camps. “Going to the Maccabiah reestablished that relationship,” he stated.

The first JCC he had swum for had closed their pool in 2001, so Krayzelburg approached them with his swim academy idea in 2005, and they were receptive. “I put the business logistics together, invested in the pool and started there and at the Milkin JCC in the Los Angeles suburbs,” he explained.

“Our ultimate goal was to teach kids how to swim – not competitively – but as a matter of safety. It was about getting kids comfortable and safe in the water,” he said.

The program was successful and saw rapid growth, so Krayzelburg packaged his learn to swim business concept. “With my existing relationship with JCCA (the Jewish Community Centers Association), health and fitness consultant Steve Becker and my wife, we formed a partnership where I offer as a package the Lenny Krayzelburg Swim Academy exclusively to JCCs around the country.”

Today, the program is offered in Brooklyn, NY; Cherry Hill, NJ; and Atlantic City, NJ. Louisville is the next to start the program.
Using the SwimRight© Method, instructors use the swim-float-swim technique as a foundation and focus on providing children with knowledge, confidence and safety in and around the water. From these basic skills, the program takes students from the beginning through the four strokes – freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke and butterfly.

program offers parent/tot classes, private lessons, group classes and stroke development and promises a high success rate for young children and even adults who never learned to swim.

JCL President and CEO Stu Silberman first heard Krayzelburg speak at an executive seminar in January, and Aquatics Director Liz Stumper did the research that led to the decision to bring this program to Louisville.

Some of the information in this story comes from Lenny Krayzelburg’s official biography on his web site.

[by Shiela Steinman Wallace]

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