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KRAYZELBURG ENJOYS POOL PARTY.

Byline: KAREN CROUSE

SYDNEY, Australia - Lenny Krayzelburg met Muhammad Ali in Sydney's Olympic Park on Friday. Muhammad Ali! Two days later, the swimmer from Studio City still couldn't quite believe it.

To meet ``The Greatest,'' was, well, the greatest. ``That was a tremendous honor,'' said the U.S.'s brightest hope for an individual swimming gold medal.

Being on a first-name basis with U.S. Olympic basketball player Jason Kidd and Monica and Lindsay and Todd and the rest of the U.S. Olympic tennis team is pretty cool, too.

Really, this Olympics gig is a gas. You come for a sporting competition and a Cannes Festival breaks out.

Meg Ryan's in town. And George Clooney. Sharon Stone, too. On Saturday at the International Aquatic Centre, Krayzelburg was nearly close enough to talk to the First Daughter, Chelsea Clinton.

It's enough to make a disciplined athlete weak, which is the only drawback to these Summer Games as far as Krayzelburg can see.

``I'm having a hard time focusing on my swimming right now,'' Krayzelburg said, smiling. ``It's kind of overwhelming.''

We'll have to take Krayzelburg's word for it since he continues to look for all the world as though he's incapable of sweating. The world's greatest backstroker made his Olympic debut today in front of 17,500 spectators at the International Aquatic Centre and it went off without a hitch.

Krayzelburg, who set world records in the 100 and 200 backstrokes in the same pool last year, cruised to the top position in the shorter event in the morning preliminaries.

His time in the two-lap race of 54.38 put him comfortably ahead of Australians Matt Welsh (54.70) and Germany's Stev Theloke (55.00).

Krayzelburg, 24, isn't too distracted to forget he is only two swims from fulfilling the dream that's been rattling around in his imagination since he was a 9-year-old in Odessa, Ukraine.

When he glanced at the clock after his morning swim today, Krayzelburg nodded. So far, so good, his body language screamed. At his office, the 6-foot-2 swimmer remains all business.

The 100 semifinals, the final - and maybe a competitor or two - is all that stands between Krayzelburg and his first Olympic gold medal.

Even as he spoke of all the diversions in and around the athletes' village, the former USC standout sported the look of someone whose eyes are homing in on a target.

From his family's emigration to the U.S. in 1989 to his starts and spurts in the pool during his teen-age years, Krayzelburg has overcome too much to get here to be waylaid now. He loves the pageantry and the party-like atmosphere, don't get him wrong. But he's not about to get swept up in it.

``It's the Olympics but it's still a swim meet,'' Krayzelburg said. ``If you think of what you bring to the occasion, you'll get too nervous. You have to keep things in perspective. You're racing the same people you see at the Janet Evans Invitational, at meets like that throughout the year.''

G'DAY FROM AUSTRALIA

They call environmentalists ``greenies'' here. They also have a name for those people who don't seem to give a hoot about the ecosystem: Americans.

Scattered throughout the athletes and media villages are two distinctly labeled types of trash bins: One for paper, cardboard and food products and the other for plastics, glass and aluminum waste. In both places Olympic volunteers report that Americans are the worst when it comes to properly disposing of their trash.

Mindful of this, I took extra care cleaning off my breakfast tray today, as if by my conscientiousness I could singlehandedly recycle the U.S.'s tainted image. As I was turning away from the bins a volunteer sweetly informed me that the jelly packet I had put in the plastics container in fact belonged in the food products bin and would I kindly remember this in the future?

Oh well. So much for repairing the ozone layer and Americans' image among the locals.

Catch ya' later, Karen Crouse

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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Sep 17, 2000
Words:683
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