Soviet Work Ethic Leads to U.S. Gold

SYDNEY, Australia Ч Swimmer Lenny KrayzelburgТs whole tumultuous life flashed before him as he stood on the winnerТs podium on Monday listening to the "Star-Spangled Banner" after winning Olympic gold.

He just didnТt know who to thank first Ч the Soviet swimming system that gave him such a solid work ethic, his Ukrainian Jewish parents who dared to dream of a better life or "the good old U.S. of A" for being the golden land of opportunity.

Krayzelburg, clutching the 100-meter backstroke gold that had been a lifelong dream, said that on the podium: "I was thinking back about everything that had happened to me over the past 11 years."

When the family emigrated to the United States, none of them spoke a word of English. His father, Oleg, took nine months to find a job as a cook at a hospital. His mother, Yelena, also got a job in the hospital working as a technician.

After his triumph, Krayzelburg said: "I will be pretty emotional when I see them. They have made a lot of sacrifices."

And he is repaying them now. As part of his six-figure contract with Speedo, one of the provisions was that the swimming costume manufacturer should fly his family to Sydney.

But in his moment of glory, Krayzelburg would not turn his back on the past.

"Being in the Soviet system under communism still played a big part in who I am today as a person and an athlete," he said.

"It stays with you the rest of your life Ч the work ethic, the dedication. That was something I learned back in the Soviet Union when I was 8 and 9 years old."

At that age, he was swimming five hours a day, running and doing weights. Hand-picked by Soviet officials, he was given government sponsorship and a life of pure, intense and focused training began at a very tender age. One motto has stayed with him all his life from those days of iron discipline: "Body does what mind prefers."

But then at the age of 13, his parents emigrated to California and he had to start all over again. They had no car. He took a bus for 45 minutes and then had to walk eight blocks to train with the Team Santa Monica swim club.

He was going to school, taking a job after school to help out the family finances. It was getting to be too much. He almost gave up swimming but his father changed his mind.

"That wasnТt an easy thing to do to move to another country with absolutely no guarantees. They had the guts to make the move," he said proudly of his parents.

Asked if he might become an inspiration for young immigrants dreaming of a new life in the United States, he said: "The great thing about America is that it gives you opportunity. I think that is what it is all about.

"Everything is possible and I am an example of that, I was willing to make sacrifices and commit myself to accomplishing certain goals."