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Thrills & Chills

Swimming: Krayzelburg completes sweep of backstroke gold by edging Peirsol in 200.


SYDNEY, Australia — Lenny Krayzelburg and Aaron Peirsol are separated by almost eight years, 0.59 of a second and a few tubes of hair gel.

The hair . . . and the heir apparent.

What has been a Southern California backstroking rivalry went international, traveling here for an Olympic viewing Thursday night. The star with the slicked-back hair, Krayzelburg, won the most significant meeting of this friendly rivalry, turning back the teen prodigy with the wild mop of blond hair, Peirsol.

Krayzelburg, who became only the third American to sweep the Olympic backstroke events, took the gold in the 200-meter backstroke with an Olympic record time of 1 minute 56.76 seconds. Irvine's Peirsol, 17, was second in 1:57.35 and Australian Matthew Welsh won the bronze, going 1:57.59.

The Ukraine-born Krayzelburg, who moved to Studio City in 1989 with his family, said this victory--which caused him to cramp afterward--hurt more than his gold-medal swim in the 100 backstroke earlier this week. He was able to share the proud moment with his parents, Oleg and Yelena, hugging them after the medal ceremony during the parade on the deck.

"I came in here with the goal of winning the gold in both individual events, and I accomplished that," said Krayzelburg, who turns 25 next week. "Hopefully, on Saturday night, I can put the icing on the cake with a good relay swim."

Just after the race, Krayzelburg and Peirsol embraced in the pool. "Keep it up," Krayzelburg told Peirsol.

Krayzelburg was the one who told Peirsol he finished second. "I thought I was third," Peirsol said. "I saw a 3 by someone's name. But I think I was looking at the wrong name."

Krayzelburg and Peirsol have almost seemed like big and little brothers, though the youngster certainly got Krayzelburg's attention when he upset the reigning world-record holder in July in Los Angeles.

"We've been racing each other the last year," Peirsol said. "Over time, I can be more of a threat to him and he knows. Over the last two weeks, I've learned a lot."

There are other differences. Krayzelburg is poised and polished, and Peirsol the fun-loving teenager, decorating his living quarters here with posters and Maxim magazines with the help of 15-year-old teammate Michael Phelps.

"Aaron is a very talented swimmer at this young age," Krayzelburg said. "[At camp] it was me and Chad Carvin and Michael Phelps and Aaron. And Aaron and Michael are like Energizer bunnies. They keep going and going.

"I'm a little bit different. It takes me awhile to get warmed up. There were times I'd be frustrated because they were just killing me."

It's important to remember Krayzelburg is one of the rare athletes to meet heavy Olympic expectation. Even 17-year-old Ian Thorpe, considered a lock in his two individual events, came away with only one individual gold, in the 400 meters.

On Day 6 of the swimming competition, Krayzelburg supplied the only gold medal for the Americans, but his victory punctuated a strong showing. American swimmers won eight medals in four finals, including a bronze for Amanda Beard of Irvine in the 200 breaststroke (2:25.35) and a shared bronze for Dara Torres and Jenny Thompson, who tied for third in the 100 freestyle, in 54.43.

It was Thompson's last shot at an individual gold medal. She has nine medals in her career--seven of them gold, in relays--and has the most of any female swimmer. A year ago, Sydney was to have been the "Lenny and Jenny Show" but was canceled because of a lack of Jenny.

Or more precisely, because of the emergence of Inge de Bruijn of the Netherlands.

De Bruijn was hardly threatened in the 100 freestyle, winning in 53.83, for her second individual gold medal. A Dutch reporter asked her about kissing the crown prince of the Netherlands, and De Bruijn shot back, saying, "I didn't kiss him. He kissed me."

The first individual gold helped her gain confidence in Sydney. "The 100 butterfly gave me wings and I feel like I'm still flying," De Bruijn said.

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