The first thing you see when you walk through the rear entrance of the Westside Jewish Community Center (WJCC) is the pool where Lenny Krayzelburg used to swim. It's the evening of Sept. 21, and 50 kids are cheering and shouting as they watch a taped Olympic swimming race on a large-screen TV in an upstairs room, its back wall lined with a Southern California Jewish Sports Hall of Fame. Krayzelburg is on the screen, and he has won his first gold medal for the 100-meter backstroke.
Krayzelburg's second swim for the gold won't air until 11 p.m., another three hours away, but JCC staff have organized a pizza party for swim team members, family and supporters "to come together to celebrate swimming and the community," explains Ani Dumas, JCC health and physical education director. "This is a pep rally for them."
"He was on the swim team here, just a few years ago," says Yumi Chapman, who worked alongside the Olympic backstroke champ as a WJCC lifeguard. Not surprisingly, "Lenny was always the fastest guy in the pool," Chapman says. But Krayzelburg liked to hang out with the other swimmers. "He was a regular guy," says Chapman.
Though many at this party share Krayzelburg's Ukrainian roots, this is a distinctly American affair. Many of the cheering supporters have their hair sprayed red, white and blue, stars have been painted on their faces, and GO USA! along with "I Â§ Lenny" in marker on their arms.
One such heavily decorated fan, 15-year-old Eugene Pushin, says that Lenny's success "makes me want to work harder on my swimming. And other things, too. He's like a mentor." Pushin adds that this party "isn't just for Lenny. We're here for the whole American team."
Aviva Brandes, 9, has been swimming for two years. She loves the pool because "it's good exercise," but says that watching Lenny win "makes it more exciting." Knowing that Krayzelburg used to swim at this JCC makes Gaby Davidson, also 9, "feel that California is the best."
Still, many of the families and swimmers who came to Los Angeles from the former Soviet Union feel a special bond with Krayzelburg. Dumas notes that swim team membership at the WJCC has spiked 30 percent since the media began reporting Krayzelburg's story in Olympics coverage.
"When he won, my mom was running around the house, yelling and crying, she was so excited," notes Kevin Silver, 13, whose family moved here from Odessa when he was 5. "It's like he was one of the family."
Lenny Krayzelburg's Web page can be found at :www.krayzelburg.com
Maccabi Men'sSoftball Tryouts
Maccabi USA - Sports for Israel will send a men's fast-pitch softball team to represent the United States in the XVI World Maccabiah Games, to be held in Israel July 16-21, 2001. Regional tryouts for the western U.S. will be held Sun., Oct. 8, 9 a.m.-2 p.m. at Balboa Sports Complex in Encino. The final team will be announced in November.Players who would like an application to try out for the men's softball team can download one from: www.maccabiusa.com/mac16app.htmlFor more information, contact World Maccabiah Games Coordinator Michael Miller at (215) 561-6900, ext. 16.