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Krayzelburg and Quann Earn Gold Medals in Swimming For U.S. Team

By Shaun Powell
NEWSDAY -- SYDNEY, Australia

The blue water inside the pool at the Aquatics Center now has some red and white in it, placed there by Americans determined to reclaim the Olympic swimming competition.

The United States made its boldest attempt yet to pull away from Ian Thorpe and the Aussies when Lenny Krayzelburg and Megan Quann swam to first-place finishes Monday in the 100-meter backstroke and breaststroke, respectively, while the Golden Boy of the Australian team had to settle for silver in the 200 freestyle.

So the gold medal tally after three days is six for the United States, two for the Aussies, and only one more event left for Thorpe. For the Americans, an overall victory is well within reach.

The turning point, some said, was when Thorpe caused pandemonium in his country by setting two world records on swimming’s first day. It was like placing a bottle of ammonia under the noses of the Americans, informing them it was time to wake up.

“It inspired everyone on our team to push harder,” admitted Quann, “and I think it showed tonight, with Lenny and I taking first.” For Krayzelburg, it was merely the coronation of a backstroke king. Already the world record-holder in three backstroke sprints, he added the 100 Olympic record as well with a 53.72-second finish, ahead of Australia’s Matt Welsh. And it also was the culmination of a trans-Atlantic odyssey that began in Russia and finished in America, with Krayzelburg reaping the best of both swimming worlds.

He was raised in the Russian youth system but moved to Los Angeles 11 years ago, where he enhanced his education inside the Southern California swimming culture.

“Starting out in Russia,” he said, “played a big part of who I am today. You learn a lot of things about work ethic and dedication. That stays with you the rest of your life. Living in America, you can take advantage of that, too. Swimming in the Russian system and going through the whole immigration process, then standing there with the gold medal is a great accomplishment.”

Quann said the night before her race, she visualized winning the gold and beating 1996 Olympic champ Penny Heyns in the process. The stopwatch was in her right hand, she could see the tiles on the floor and even taste the water.

And Heyns, of course, was right by her side.

“She has pushed me so hard,” said Quann, the 16-year-old high school junior from Puyallup, Wash. “It’s her who I see in my mind, and it’s her who I see at practice.” She also saw Heyns when she passed her in the final 50 meters. At the turn, Quann touched the wall in third place, but quickly made up the distance with a strong finish.