Text size

Triple Olympic gold medalist Jason Lezak said Sunday that his Jewish heritage inspired him to compete in Israel's Maccabiah Games instead of the upcoming World Swimming Championships in Rome.

Despite skipping the sport's top competition of the year, Lezak said his goal remains the same: to bring home the gold for the United States.

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

The Maccabiah Games is 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 in the 2008 Beijing Olympics' 4x100 meter freestyle relay when 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 his teammate Michael Phelps to a record eight gold medals, eclipsing the previous record of seven held by another Maccabiah athlete, Mark Spitz.

Lezak's two other Olympic gold medals are for the 4x100 meter 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.

"I learned from him that anything is possible," Lezak said, speaking of Phelps. "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."