Jason Lezak

Beijing swimming hero Jason Lezak retires

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Jason Lezak, the guy who swam arguably the greatest relay leg in swimming history, has decided to call it quits at the age of 37.

Lezak became a household name during the Beijing Olympics when he brought the U.S. 4x100m freestyle relay team from a distant second to the gold medal in the last 50 meters of the race. He was nearly a full body length behind France’s Alain Bernard when he dove into the water for the anchor leg. Not only was a gold medal on the line for the U.S., Michael Phelps’ hopes of going eight for eight were in serious jeopardy in just his second race.

After the first 50 meters, Lezak still trailed by a considerable margin. Then he started making up ground. And more ground. Before we knew it, Lezak had pulled even with Bernard about 10 meters from the wall.

You know how the story ends; Lezak out-touched Bernard by .08 of a second.

Lezak decided to make one more Olympic run last year and made the London squad by the skin of his teeth, finishing sixth in the 100m freestyle at the Olympic Trials. In London, Lezak swam in the prelims of the 4x100m freestyle and earned a silver medal with the squad.

This week, Lezak told OCVarsity.com he was ready to call it a career.

“I’ve accomplished a lot and had to sacrifice a lot to get there,” said Lezak, who owns eight Olympic medals (four gold). “I just want to be able to relax and enjoy the kids to the fullest.”

Lezak and his wife have two sons.

Paul Elvstrom, Olympic sailing legend, dies at 88

ESTORIL, PORTUGAL - NOVEMBER 5:   Paul Elvstrom of Denmark is inducted during the launch of the ISAF Sailing Hall of Fame  on November 5, 2007 at the Estoril Casino in Estoril, Portugal.  (Photo by John Gichigi/Getty Images)
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Danish sailor Paul Elvstrom, the first Olympian to win individual gold medals at four Games, has died at age 88, according to the Denmark sailing federation.

Elvstrom won firefly gold at London 1948, then gold in a slightly different event, the finn, at Helsinki 1952, Melbourne 1956 and Rome 1960.

Since, five Olympians have won individual gold medals at four Games — Al Oerter (discus), Carl Lewis (long jump), Ben Ainslie (sailing), Michael Phelps (swimming) and Kaori Icho (wrestling).

Elvstrom also competed in the 1968, 1972, 1984 and 1988 Olympics, completing a 40-year span of Olympic competition at age 60 in Seoul.

His daughter, Trine, crewed for him in 1984 and 1988, making them the only father-daughter combination to compete together at an Olympics.

He was named Denmark’s greatest male athlete of the 20th century.

MORE: IOC: Rio Olympics were ‘perfect imperfect Games’

Nathan Chen, once the darling boy of U.S. figure skating, is now a leading man

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In January 2010, a 10-year-old Nathan Chen skated off the ice at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships exhibition gala to a standing ovation.

Chen had rocked his performance to “Peter and the Wolf,” wearing a bright red outfit with blue pants, looking like a Toy Soldier. At 4 feet, 5 inches, he was slightly taller than the rink boards.

Chen had earned a spot in the exhibition with Vancouver Olympians by winning the U.S. novice title six days earlier. The youngest of five siblings had started skating at age 3 in his hometown of Salt Lake City, at a 2002 Olympic practice rink, and also trained ballet and played hockey.

“We’ll be seeing a lot more of this young man, that’s for sure,” 1984 Olympic champion Scott Hamilton said on the NBC broadcast from Spokane, Wash., six years ago.

Sandra Bezic, a longtime Canadian choreographer and commentator, remarked on the show that Chen wouldn’t be age eligible for the Olympics until 2018.

“Remember that name,” Bezic said.

Chen, now 17 years old, has become the name in U.S. men’s figure skating going into this week’s Grand Prix Final in Marseille, France. He qualified into the six-man event as the world’s fifth-best skater in the fall Grand Prix series, best by an American in five years.

“I’m trying to place myself among the top,” Chen said by phone before flying to Marseille. “I’m glad I have the opportunity.”

Chen was confined to a hospital bed for a week 10 months ago and off the ice for months.

On Jan. 24, he aggravated a left hip injury 15 seconds into his U.S. Championships exhibition gala skate — the same event where he melted hearts in Spokane six years earlier — and had to be wheeled away from the Xcel Energy Center rink in St. Paul, Minn.

Chen was taken to the emergency room, underwent X-Rays and was told he needed surgery. He wouldn’t be able to compete again that winter or spring.

“That was kind of devastating,” said Chen, who had an avulsion injury, meaning a piece of bone tore away from the main part of the bone, not uncommon for a growth-spurting teenager. “I was thinking, how am I going to get back on the ice as fast as possible?”

Hours before the exhibition, Chen had won the U.S. bronze medal and qualified for the world championships team. He landed two quadruple jumps in his short program and four in his free skate. Both firsts for an American.

Chen was the youngest man to make the top three at nationals in 43 years. He represented a shot in the arm for U.S. men’s skating in the middle of its longest international medal lull since the 1970s.

“I had distinctive sights on what I wanted to accomplish,” at nationals, Chen said. “I wanted to make the world team.”

Chen had come to St. Paul with a left hip injury but skated two electric, quad-filled programs without pain. Maybe it was the preventative physical therapy. Or adrenalin.

After his free skate, Chen went through drug testing and a change of costume for the exhibition.

Chen had no time to warm-up, was shivering and says now he really wasn’t ready to perform in the gala, but he doesn’t blame anybody for what happened.

“I just felt like it was something I had to do,” Chen said. “I always kind of use my exhibitions as a redemption to an extent, if things didn’t quite go the way I wanted to in competition.”

Chen, who had fallen on a triple Axel in his free skate, aborted his exhibition program after 15 seconds, botching his opening triple toe loop attempt in discomfort from the takeoff.

Chen pressed his left hip, grimaced and hobbled to the boards, which he was tall enough to lean over after growing a foot since 2010.

A wheelchair arrived, Chen eased into it and was pushed out of sight. He wouldn’t be seen in competition again until October.

It was hard to know what to expect out of Chen this fall, but he quickly put the injury behind him.

In his first event back, Chen attempted five quads in his free skate, one more than at nationals. He fell three times over two programs but still won a lower-level event in Finland over three-time world champion Patrick Chan of Canada.

He made his Grand Prix debut the next month, finishing fourth and second in France and Japan. In Japan, Chen posted the highest total score by an American under the decade-old judging system. He also had an epiphany practicing on the same ice as Yuzuru Hanyu.

“I was like, oh crap, this is the Olympic champion,” Chen said. “This is pretty sick.”

Chen’s season is even more remarkable considering he spent two months away from his California-based coach, Rafael Arutunian. It was Arutunian who helped develop Chen into a jumping phenom.

But Chen needed to improve his artistic skills, spins and footwork. He flew to Michigan and learned from choreographer Marina Zoueva, who guided the last two Olympic ice dancing champions. But he never forgot Arutunian’s training.

“I can hear him in my head,” said Chen, whose ability to land clean quads this season has been a coin flip. “I know what he would say to certain things when I make certain mistakes.”

Chen returned to Arutunian after NHK Trophy, training for two weeks ahead of the Grand Prix Final. He predicted he would have to combat nerves skating in Marseille, beginning Thursday, in the biggest event of his young career.

“I’m not completely satisfied with the way I’m skating lately,” Chen said.

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