Jason Lezak

Jason Lezak on life in retirement

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The pressure to perform for crowds didn’t go away after Jason Lezak stepped out of the pool.

He has turned to public speaking in retirement. The first time he stared out at a sea of eyes, the swimmer felt an immediate knot in the pit of his stomach.

“Oh my God, I can’t believe there’s so many people here,” Lezak remembered. “When I was little, I had a hard time stepping in front of a classroom, let alone in front of a large group,”

Lezak, a four-time Olympian and the anchor-leg star of the 2008 Olympic 4x100m freestyle relay, equated his maturation in motivational speeches, corporate conventions and children’s clinics to his own swimming.

“It’s like starting your first meet,” he said at the U.S. Swimming Championships in Irvine, Calif., last week, adjacent to a high school gym where a banner hangs with his name, among others, and five Olympic rings. “You’re not going to be very successful at first. You’re going to have failures and setbacks.”

Lezak embraced the challenge so much that he’s now traveling abroad for engagements, such as Sweden later this month. He feels comfortable in front of 100 or more than 1,000 onlookers, at shallow pools or inside arenas.

“In the corporate world, I’m talking a lot about team and not giving up and longevity and perseverance,” said Lezak, who didn’t win his first individual medal until his third Olympics. “Each company wants a little something different, overcoming obstacles, whatever that may be, something that can relate to the corporate world. For the kids, I’m giving them that kind of message in a smaller version, not going into as much depth.”

He still swims sometimes, just to stay in shape at 38 years old with two young boys to chase around. He said the best questions he’s faced in public came not from the suits, but from the kids.

“I get asked about Michael [Phelps] and Ryan [Lochte] all the time,” said Lezak, a teammate of Phelps and Lochte at three Olympics.

But not the Beijing relay?

“[Phelps and Lochte] are in the spotlight,” Lezak said. “They heard my story. They heard about the relay. Now they want to know, what are those guys like? How often do you see them? Where do you guys hang out? What do they do?”

Lezak’s presence at Nationals drew applause from spectators — not quite as loud as for Phelps and Lochte, but still appreciative — pats on the back on the pool deck and reflections.

“I miss the competitiveness; I miss the challenge,” Lezak said. “But when it comes down to it, I don’t miss how my body felt trying to train at the end of my career. It got real difficult as I got older. I wish I could do it, but I’m glad I’m not doing it.

“I do my fast swimming when I go to my clinics, and I race the kids.”

Five takeaways from U.S. Swimming Championships

Maia, Alex Shibutani repeat as U.S. champions, just miss record

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KANSAS CITY — Maia and Alex Shibutani proved again they are the best in the U.S. The task will be much tougher in two months at the world championships.

The siblings totaled 200.05 points to repeat as national champions on Saturday.

They missed the U.S. Championships overall record score, set by Olympic champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White, by .14 of a point, after setting the short dance record Friday.

“A year out from the Olympics, this is exactly where we want to be,” Maia Shibutani told Andrea Joyce on NBC. “I know we’ve improved so much.”

Madison Chock and Evan Bates, the 2015 U.S. champions, were second, 1.01 points behind the Shibutanis. Chock and Bates actually outscored the Shibutanis in the free dance.

Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue were third after Hubbell shockingly fell during their free dance.

Full results are here.

The Shibutanis are riding a tidal wave of momentum. They earned their first U.S. title in 2016, then took silver at the world championships last March and bronze at the Grand Prix Final last month.

“The past year and a half, we’ve built so much momentum,” Alex Shibutani said. “We’re really coming into our own.”

The world’s two best couples are two-time reigning world champions Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France and Canada’s Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir.

Virtue and Moir took Olympic gold in 2010 and silver in 2014, then took two seasons off and returned this year to post the highest scores under the current system implemented in 2010.

The U.S., though, is unquestionably the deepest ice dance nation. The Shibutanis, Chock and Bates and Hubbell and Donohue made up half of the top six at the 2016 World Championships. All three couples qualified for each of the last two Grand Prix Finals, which take only six couples.

Meanwhile, Davis and White have watched the ascension while taking a three-year break from competition. They are running out of time to decide if they will attempt to defend their Olympic title in PyeongChang. A nation can send no more than three couples to the Olympics.

The U.S. Championships continue Saturday night with the women’s free skate (8 p.m. ET, NBC, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app).

Check out NBCsports.com/USFIGS for all-access coverage all weekend.

VIDEO: Tara Lipinski reflects on winning 1997 U.S. title at age 14

U.S. Championships Ice Dance
GOLD: Maia Shibutani/Alex Shibutani — 200.05

SILVER: Madison Chock/Evan Bates — 199.04
BRONZE: Madison Hubbell/Zachary Donohue — 191.42
4. Elliana Pogrebinsky/Alex Benoit — 170.29
5. Kaitlin Hawayek/Jean-Luc Baker — 160.06

Haven Denney, Brandon Frazier win U.S. pairs title after year off

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KANSAS CITY — Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier returned from a year off to win their first U.S. pairs title on Saturday, despite an error-prone free skate and against a field lacking any previous U.S. champion teams.

Denney and Frazier jumped from second after the short program to total 188.32 points and win by 2.04 over Sochi Olympian Marissa Castelli and Mervin Tran. Denney and Frazier’s total score was 23.33 points fewer than last year’s winning score.

Ashley Cain and Timothy LeDuc, who led by 3.96 after the short program, had a strong free skate going until a fall on their throw triple Lutz and finished third Saturday.

Full results are here.

Denney and Frazier were the top U.S. pair in the fall international season by 16 points, taking a silver medal at Skate America.

But Denney struggled on landings in the short program, her right leg wrapped after blowing out her right knee in spring 2015 that caused them to miss the entire 2015-16 season. They also had multiple jumping errors in their free skate, but, unlike the rest of the top five, stayed on their feet Saturday.

“We’re trying harder elements, harder jumps, bigger throws, bigger twists,” Frazier said. “What you see is a couple of ups and downs. This is all building for the next season.”

The U.S. will send two pairs to the world championships in Helsinki in two months, but not definitively the top two finishers from Saturday. The world championships pairs teams will be named Sunday.

Denney and Frazier finished 12th at the 2015 Worlds, after placing second at that year’s U.S. Championships. Castelli and Tran, in their second year as a pair, have no worlds experience together and are ineligible for the 2018 Olympics. Tran, born in Canada, is not a U.S. citizen.

Pairs is the U.S.’ weakest discipline. The last U.S. pair to earn an Olympic or world medal was Kyoka Ina and John Zimmerman at the 2002 Worlds. Eight different pairs have won the last nine U.S. titles.

In 2016, the U.S. pairs finished ninth and 13th at worlds, but both of those teams are out due to injuries.

Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Christopher Knierim, the top U.S. pair in international competition in recent seasons, has been out of competition all season due to her September stomach surgery. They have returned to full training.

The Knierims filed a petition to be named to the world championships team, which is selected on a discretionary basis on results from the U.S. Championships and other recent competitions.

“Whatever they decide,” Tran said of a U.S. Figure Skating selection committee, “we’re all for that.”

The 2016 U.S. champions Tarah Kayne and Danny O’Shea withdrew before the free skate Saturday after Kayne suffered a concussion in a short-program fall. They placed fifth in the short program.

The U.S. Championships continue Saturday night with the women’s free skate (8 p.m. ET, NBC, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app).

Check out NBCsports.com/USFIGS for all-access coverage all weekend.

VIDEO: Tara Lipinski reflects on 1997 U.S. title at age 14

U.S. Championships Pairs
GOLD: Haven Denney/Brandon Frazier — 188.32
SILVER: Marissa Castelli/Mervin Tran — 186.28
BRONZE: Ashley Cain/Timothy LeDuc — 184.41

4. Deanna Stellato/Nathan Bartholomay — 173.50
5. Jessica Pfund/Joshua Santillan — 168.90