Jason Lezak on life in retirement

Jason Lezak
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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

Madison Chock, Evan Bates win an ice dance world title for the ages

Madison Chock, Evan Bates
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After 12 years and three Olympics together, Madison Chock and Evan Bates won their first world title in ice dance, becoming the oldest gold medalists in the event and the second U.S. couple to win.

Chock, 30, and Bates, 34, won worlds in Saitama, Japan, totaling 226.01 points between the rhythm dance and free dance for their first gold after three previous silver or bronze medals.

Despite Chock’s fluke fall in the middle of Saturday’s free dance, they prevailed by 6.16 over Italians Charlène Guignard and Marco Fabbri. Canadians Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier took bronze.

“We wouldn’t be sitting here today without many of those challenges that we faced, not just this season, but through all the many seasons of our career,” Chock said. “We really persevered and showed a lot of grit, and, I think, maybe our performance today was a little reflection of that — perseverance and grit yet again. That little blip in the middle was so fast and so unexpected.”

All of the medalists were in their 30s, a first for any figure skating discipline at worlds since World War II, in an event that included none of last year’s Olympic medalists. None have decided whether they will continue competing next season.

FIGURE SKATING WORLDS: Results

French Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron, who won last year’s Olympic and world titles, skipped this season on an indefinite and possibly permanent break from competition. Olympic silver medalists Viktoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov have been barred from competing since last March due to the blanket ban on Russians for the war in Ukraine. Americans Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue, the Olympic bronze medalists, retired.

Chock and Bates, the top returning couple from last season, became the oldest couple to win the ice dance at worlds or the Olympics.

Birthdates are hard to come by for the earliest world champions from Great Britain in the 1950s — before ice dancing became an Olympic event in 1976 — but the World Figure Skating Hall of Fame confirmed many ages, as did Brit Paul Thomas, a 1956 gold medalist who now coaches in Canada.

Chock and Bates join their former training partners, Meryl Davis and Charlie White, as the lone Americans to win a world title in ice dance. Davis and White did it in 2011 and 2013, then in their final competition in 2014 became the first (and so far only) U.S. couple to win an Olympic ice dance title.

Chock and Bates’ competitive future is uncertain, but they are committed to a summer 2024 wedding.

Perhaps no ice dancers, and few, if any, figure skaters since World War II worked this long and hard at the elite level to reach the top podium step.

Each was looking for a new partner in 2011 when they teamed up, a year after Bates placed 11th in his Olympic debut with Emily Samuelson.

After Davis and White stopped competing, Chock and Bates ascended as the next top U.S. couple in the nation’s strongest figure skating discipline.

For years, it looked like their peak came at the 2015 World Championships, when they led after the short dance and then posted their best free dance score of the season. But Papadakis and Cizeron relegated them to silver minutes later with a breakout performance.

The next season, Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani overtook Chock and Bates as the top U.S. couple. When the Shibutanis stepped away from competition in 2018, Hubbell and Donohue inherited the American throne.

Chock and Bates endured her ankle injury in the 2018 Olympic season (they were ninth at those Games, a nadir), her concussion after fainting on a walk on a hot Montreal day in 2020 and a fourth-place finish at last year’s Olympics, missing a medal by 3.25 points.

They did earn an Olympic medal in the team event that will be gold or silver, pending the resolution of Russian Kamila Valiyeva‘s doping case.

“When I think about the totality of our career, I’m struck by what our coaches have done for us and the lifeline that they gave us five years ago,” Bates said, noting their move from Michigan to Montreal in 2018. “After PyeongChang, we could have easily been done.”

Chock and Bates ranked second in the world this season after the fall Grand Prix Series. Things changed the last two months.

In January, Chock and Bates won the U.S. title by the largest margin under a 13-year-old scoring system, with what Bates called probably the best skating of their partnership. In February, Chock and Bates won the Four Continents Championships with the best total score in the world this season to that point.

Meanwhile, Gilles and Poirier, the top couple in the fall, lost momentum by missing their nationals and Four Continents due to Gilles’ appendectomy.

World championships highlights air Saturday from 8-10 p.m. ET on NBC, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app.

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2023 World Figure Skating Championships results

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2023 World Figure Skating Championships in Saitama, Japan, top 10 and notable results …

Women
Gold: Kaori Sakamoto (JPN) — 224.61
Silver: Lee Hae-In (KOR) — 220.94
Bronze: Loena Hendrickx (BEL) — 210.42
4. Isabeau Levito (USA) — 207.65
5. Mai Mihara (JPN) — 205.70
6. Kim Chae-Yeon (KOR) — 203.51
7. Nicole Schott (GER) — 197.76
8. Kimmy Repond (SUI) — 194.09
9. Niina Petrokina (EST) — 193.49
10. Rinka Watanabe (JPN) — 192.81
12. Amber Glenn (USA) — 188.33
15. Bradie Tennell (USA) — 184.14

Men (Short Program)
1. Shoma Uno (JPN) — 104.63
2. Ilia Malinin (USA) — 100.38
3. Cha Jun-Hwan (KOR) — 99.64
4. Keegan Messing (CAN) — 98.75
5. Kevin Aymoz (FRA) — 95.56
6. Jason Brown (USA) — 94.17
7. Kazuki Tomono (JPN) — 92.68
8. Daniel Grassl (ITA) — 86.50
9. Lukas Britschgi (SUI) — 86.18
10. Vladimir Litvintsev (AZE) — 82.71
17. Sota Yamamoto (JPN) — 75.48
22. Andrew Torgashev (USA) — 71.41

FIGURE SKATING WORLDS: Broadcast Schedule

Pairs
Gold: Riku Miura/Ryuichi Kihara (JPN) — 222.16
Silver: Alexa Knierim/Brandon Frazier (USA) — 217.48
Bronze: Sara Conti/Niccolo Macii (ITA) — 208.08
4. Deanna Stellato-Dudek/Maxime Deschamps (CAN) — 199.97
5. Emily Chan/Spencer Howe (USA) — 194.73
6. Lia Pereira/Trennt Michaud (CAN) — 193.00
7. Maria Pavlova/Alexei Sviatchenko (HUN) — 190.67
8. Anastasia Golubova/Hektor Giotopoulos Moore (AUS) — 189.47
9. Annika Hocke/Robert Kunkel (GER) — 184.60
10. Alisa Efimova/Ruben Blommaert (GER) — 184.46
12. Ellie Kam/Danny O’Shea (USA) — 175.59

Ice Dance
Gold: Madison Chock/Evan Bates (USA) — 226.01
Silver: Charlene Guignard/Marco Fabbri (ITA) — 219.85
Bronze: Piper Gilles/Paul Poirier (CAN) — 217.88
4. Lilah Fear/Lewis Gibson (GBR) — 214.73
5. Laurence Fournier Beaudry/Nikolaj Soerensen (CAN) — 214.04
6. Caroline Green/Michael Parsons (USA) — 201.44
7. Allison Reed/Saulius Ambrulevicius (LTU) — 199.20
8. Natalie Taschlerova/Filip Taschler (CZE) — 196.39
9. Juulia Turkkila/Matthias Versluis (FIN) — 193.54
10. Christina Carreira/Anthony Ponomarenko (USA) — 190.10
11. Kana Muramoto/Daisuke Takahashi (JPN) — 188.87

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