An excerpt from THE UNDERWATER WINDOW
A novel by Dan Stephenson
From the author:
In the early chapters of THE UNDERWATER WINDOW, Doyle Wilson has to decide whether to keep swimming or move on with his life at age 24. This is a tough decision for many swimmers, who have invested so much time and effort chasing dreams that are hard to give up. Jason Lezak is one of the few swimmers to reach his peak after age 30. He recently qualified for his fourth Olympic team at age 36.
---Dan Stephenson, author of THE UNDERWATER WINDOW.
For me, the hero of the 2008 Olympics was Jason Lezak. I know, most people say Michael Phelps was the hero, with his eight gold medals. Phelps was phenomenal, but he was expected to win. What Lezak did was not only surprising, it taught young swimmers an unforgettable lesson: never give up.
Jason Lezak anchored the 4 x 100 freestyle relay for the USA team. He started more than half a second behind Alain Bernard of France and passed him on the final stroke to win. To understand the significance of this, you have to go back eight years.
Lezak was a solid sprinter and relay swimmer even before 2008. He swam in the 2000 and 2004 Olympics and picked up a handful of relay medals in those Games. In 2000, he was on the favored USA team in the 400 freestyle relay. Gary Hall, Jr., the star on that relay, had promised that the Americans would “smash the Australians like guitars.” The Australians won, and Lezak had to watch as the Australians mockingly strummed their air guitars.
In the 2004 Olympics, Michael Phelps was trying for seven gold medals and he ended up with six. One of his missed chances was in the 400 freestyle relay, an event the Americans had a chance to win, but lost handily to the South Africans and the Dutch. Lezak was on the American relay and watched the South Africans celebrate.
In 2008, Phelps was trying for eight gold medals in eight events in order to best the Mark Spitz standard of seven-for-seven. He was favored in every event except one: the 400 freestyle relay. The French team was dominant, and its star, Bernard, owned the 100-meter freestyle individual world record. On the eve of the Games, Bernard was asked about the relay and reportedly said, “The Americans? We’re going to smash them. That’s what we came here for.”
Lezak had the pressure of past U.S. failures, Bernard’s taunt, and Phelps’s gold medal quest all on his shoulders. When he dove off, Lezak was .65 seconds behind Bernard. Bernard pulled further away on the first 50, touching with his feet at 21.20, the fastest 50 meters ever swum. Lezak came out of the turn almost a full second behind—an eternity in a sprint.
“I’m not going to lie,” Lezak said later. “When I flipped at the 50, it really crossed my mind for a split second that there was no way.” Then he told himself, “I don’t care how bad it hurts or whatever,” and he got down to business. With 25 meters to go, Bernard still had a commanding lead. With ten meters left, Bernard started tying up. Lezak stayed strong. Bernard lost his stroke and flailed weakly into the wall, turning to peek at Lezak just before the end. Lezak kept plugging, and touched .08 seconds ahead of Bernard. The Americans won, and Phelps was on his way to eight golds with an assist from Jason Lezak.
Lezak won only one individual Olympic medal, a bronze in the 100 freestyle in Beijing, an event won by Bernard three days after the relay duel. He was a good swimmer. But on August 11, 2008, for 46.06 seconds, Jason Lezak was beyond good—he was great. He rose above himself and went seven tenths faster than his next best swim. He swam out of his skin, out of his mind. On that day, at that time, in that place, he transcended his training and his past. He exceeded the sum of his parts.
Excerpted from THE UNDERWATER WINDOW © 2012 by Dan Stephensen. Excerpted with permission from the author. All Rights Reserved.
Disclosure and Relationships Statement - I received a paperback copy of this book. I was under no obligation to post about the book. But some of the the thoughts, words, and randomness on this page are mine.