Soviet emigre wins gold for U.S., sets world record

"Oh my God, there's so much relief, you can't even imagine," he added. "The last 24 hours have been pretty hard. I thought I would stay pretty relaxed, but that hasn't happened."

Krayzelburg, 24, who now lives in Southern California, says that "a lot of who I am today is what I learned back in Russia — the work ethic, the commitment."

By Soviet standards, his family was affluent. His army-sponsored school gave him vouchers for free meals, and the family lived in a three-bedroom apartment. And after Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev loosened economic restrictions, his father, Oleg, opened a small, private business.

But the possibility that Krayzelburg might have to serve in the army when he turned 18 — the Soviet Union was then engaged in a war against Afghanistan — and anti-Semitism in that part of the world motivated his parents to emigrate.

But in America, he faced a number of pitfalls, both in and out of the pool.

Finding a pool that would allow him to train was one problem. Learning English was another.

Krayzelburg's family struggled financially, and in order to make money to help out his family, he worked as a lifeguard at the Westside Jewish Community Center in Los Angeles.

Obviously, the swimmer triumphed, and also earned a degree in finance from the University of Southern California.