Lezak says Jewish heritage is reason

JERUSALEM -- Triple Olympic gold medalist Jason Lezak will skip the upcoming world swimming championships and instead compete in Israel's Maccabiah Games in tribute to his Jewish heritage.

Despite skipping the sport's top competition of the year, Lezak said his goals remain the same.

"I came here to swim fast and hopefully bring home some gold medals for the USA," Lezak said on Sunday.

The Maccabiah Games are an international competition for Jewish athletes, held every four years in Israel. More than 900 American athletes will compete in this year's games, officials said, making it the second-largest delegation behind Israel. The 10-day competition begins July 13.

"This is a very serious athletic competition that shares another purpose and that's to bring together worldwide Jewry," Ron Carner, chairman of the U.S. teams, said at a news conference with Lezak.

Lezak gained worldwide recognition during the 2008 Beijing Olympics, when, in the 400-meter freestyle relay, he dramatically overtook world record-holding French swimmer Alain Bernard in the relay's final stroke.

It was the fastest 100-meter lap in history and helped teammate Michael Phelps to a record eight gold medals, eclipsing the record of seven held by another Maccabiah athlete, Mark Spitz.

Lezak's two other Olympic gold medals are for the 400 medley relay in Beijing and for the same event in the 2004 Olympics in Athens. He will be competing in multiple events at the Maccabiah.

Lezak said he has been inspired by Phelps.

"I learned from him that anything is possible," Lezak said. " . . . People doubted him and people doubted me and being able to accomplish things people don't think you can do, that's how you become a champion."