Phalans watch close friend, Lezak, become Olympic legend
August 11, 2008
By Charles Whisnand
Appeal Sports Editor
Jim and Gabby Phalan had to wait until after 11:30 p.m. Sunday night to watch the race of their lives.
It was well worth the wait. They watched their closest friend simply turn in the greatest swim in the history of humankind.
Jason Lezak has become the latest Olympic legend with his anchor leg that gave the Americans the gold medal in the 4×100 freestyle relay in Beijing, China. Carson City native Jim Phalan swam with Lezak at UC Santa Barbara and for four of the five years they were there from 1994 to 1999, the two were college roommates.
The two have remained best friends to this day with Phalan serving as the best man in Lezak’s wedding. Phalan ended up marrying Gabby, who also trained with Lezak while the two were at Irvine Novaquatics. Gabby is now the Carson Tigersharks head coach.
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Lezak turned in an effort for the ages, overtaking world record holder Alain Bernard of France. Lezak outtouched Bernard at the wall helping the Americans break the world record by four seconds set by the American “B” team in the preliminaries.
Lezak turned in a blistering leg of 46.06 seconds ” the fastest 100 free ever ” to help the Americans finish in 3 minutes, 8.24, edging favored France, which finished in 3:08.32.
It’s been a busy time for Jim Phalan, who still helps Lezak, 32 and the oldest swimmer on the U.S. Men’s team, with his Web site. Phalan updated Lezak’s Web site with the most recent information on the 4×100 free relay.
Jim e-mailed Lezak after watching the race. But Lezak has obviously received tons of e-mails in the form of fan mail and Lezak sent an e-mail back to Phalan admitting that he deleted Phalan’s e-mail by mistake while going through the fan mail.
“I am beat down,” said Phalan about the message that Lezak sent to him. “I need to go take a nap.”
Viewers in the Eastern and Central times zones got to see Lezak’s heroics live, but NBC is delaying the coverage so it can also show the Olympics on the West Coast in primetime as well.
That meant West Coast viewers didn’t see the 4×100 relay until after 11:30 p.m. and the Phalans made the decision they wanted to watch the race without knowing what happened.
It wasn’t easy. Phalan’s mother called him from Houston after she saw the race. “Don’t tell me about it,” said Phalan about what he told his mom.
Then Gabby received a call from her brother in Mexico. “I just saw the most exciting thing,” said Gabby about what her brother told her. “I’m like, ‘don’t tell me.'”
Phalan was wondering what was going to be so exciting when Lezak was actually more than a full body length behind Bernard. “I thought that he was going to get second for sure,” she said.
But Lezak was able to make up more than the body length ” something that’s unheard of in such a short relay leg.
For Lezak it was also redemption. While Lezak now has won three golds ” he won gold in the 400 medley relays in the 2000 and 2004 Olympics, finally winning the 400 free relay was sweet.
Lezak had the distinction ” really an unfair one ” on being on the first two 4×100 relays to not win in the Olympics. He and the Americans finished second to Australia in Sydney in 2000 and second to South Africa in 2004. The U.S. had won the previous seven 4×100 free relays in the Olympics.
In an ironic twist, the Australians edged the Americans after Gary Hall Jr. said the U.S. team would “smash” the Australians “like guitars.” Jim still has a photo of one of the Australian swimmers acting like he’s strumming a guitar while Lezak and Hall have their heads down.
This time it was Bernard who said the French would “smash” the Americans. “Jason wanted to beat those guys,” Jim said.
“Don’t say anything. You’re probably going to end up losing. I just don’t think you can say those types of things.”
Unless something disasterous happens, Lezak should win another gold in the 400 meter free relay. Michael Phelps, who was also on the 400 free relay, will be on that relay and could be on his way to winning eight gold medals. If Phelps wins eight gold medals he will receive a $1 million bonus and he’ll obviously have Lezak to thank for it.
In addition, Lezak could be heading for another showdown with Bernard in the 100 free.
“He did an amazing swim last night didn’t he?” said Jim about the relay. “I was anxiously awaiting the race.
“I don’t cry normally. I had a couple tears come down my face. It was the most amazing swim I’ve ever seen. Amazing is not the word for it.”
Lezak visited the Tigersharks in November, 2006 and Jim said Lezak hopes to come back to the area to visit after the Olympics.
“He’s still my best friend,” said Jim, who added he and Gabby refer to him as “Uncle Jason” when talking to their 20-month old daughter Sofia. “He’s still very much part of my life.
“We’re still very close. It’s a great friendship. I’m glad to have met him. I love Jason to death.”