With arguably the world’s top two backstrokers, Aaron Peirsol and Lenny Krayzelburg, likely to be training together at Irvine Novaquatics a couple of years ago, Coach Dave Salo was excited about what should be an exceptional summer leading up to the Olympics.

Dave Salo was the first to tell you that that summer was different from all the rest. Let’s rephrase that: “It will be an exceptional summer,” Salo said from his office at Soka University in Aliso Viejo, Calif.

Salo, who coaches the Irvine Novaquatics swim team, will be in high gear this summer as he prepares his swimmers for Olympic Trials in July at Long Beach. Not that Salo is a stranger to the routine. He’s been placing athletes on the Olympic team since Barcelona in 1992, including medalists Amanda Beard, Jason Lezak and Aaron Peirsol. This time, however, ah, there’s the rub.

It was Salo who coached backstroker and world record holder Peirsol in his high school and age group years and is one of the big reasons why he won a silver medal in the 200 meter backstroke in the 2000 Olympics in Australia.

A couple of years before the 2000 Olympics, Peirsol was steadily blazing his trail and making a name for himself as a force to be reckoned with at the 2000 Games. Indeed, at the age of 15, Peirsol became the youngest American to break two minutes in the 200 meter backstroke.

While not cocky, there was no mistaking the young teenager’s swagger as he rose up the ranks, becoming a bona fide challenger to the then world record holder, Lenny Krayzelburg. At that time, the University of Southern California swimmer was the indisputable kingpin of the stroke. However, a year before the Summer Games, no matter the meet in which the two were competing, Peirsol was always a pesty second.

The Krayzelburg-Peirsol duel was an ongoing event leading up to the 2000 Olympics. In fact, it seemed like the question wasn’t which country would claim the gold in the 200 backstroke, but whether it would be Krayzelburg or Peirsol who would win the event.

Not that there was any animosity between the swimmers, far from it! Instead, there was a deep respect and intense competitiveness between the two. Just for a recap, Krayzelburg swam an Olympic record of 1:56.76, while Peirsol, who was 17 at the time, finished in 1:57.35.

Lenny Makes the Call
So it’s understandable that Salo was a bit taken aback last May when he received a phone call from Krayzelburg, asking him if he could train with him.

“I think it’s a combination of a lot of things as to why Lenny gave me the call,” Salo said. “Some of it has to do with the fact that his injuries don’t allow him to train, with the mentality that he has, in an environment such as Mark’s (Schubert), where it’s going to be very yardage-based. I think he recognized that it was going to be hard for him to train at that level, and my workouts were more compatible with what he needed.

Salo added, “Lenny needed something that was different. He’d been with Mark for a long time. I think he felt he was in the waning period of his career, that maybe something a little bit different would give it a little different edge. And Aaron being here was certainly a selling point.”

Nonetheless, regardless of whose workout he would be using, Krayzelburg’s reputation preceded him, and his workout ethic is legendary.

“I’ve heard stories about Lenny and Brad Bridgewater when they were both at (USC) Trojan Swim Club. And it helped Lenny a lot. And what it will do for Aaron (as a training partner) should be unbelievable.

“Talentwise, he’s not like Aaron. Not that he doesn’t have tremendous talent, but from his standpoint_and I’ve watched him do this now_it’s not good enough just to be better. He wants to be the best at what he’s doing, whether it’s dryland, kicking sets or sets we’ll throw at him that he’s not familiar with.

“You can see him analyzing how other people are successful or where he’s lacking a skill. Then he tries to be better at that skill_no, not just better, but the best. And that’s something I don’t think I’ve ever seen before in an athlete.”

At this point, Salo is smiling like a kid who was just handed a Never-Ending Gob Stopper from Willy Wonka. Listening to him talk, he almost gets giddy thinking about the potentials involving the two athletes.

“I think from hearing the background on Lenny and from what I’ve seen, he’s really good in training. But with the two of them playing off of each other, it will make (training) exceptional,” Salo said.

Not Afraid to Compete
“Aaron likes to compete in practice. He’s not afraid to compete in practice. Lenny can do it without anybody there, so the potential of the two of them working together could be very exciting.”

So, picture this: two thoroughbreds in the water, probably wanting to race each and every set. Competition is flowing throughout their bodies, and there’s literally electricity flowing in the pool. So, what as a coach are you going to do to channel this energy?

“Well, it sort of lends itself to my program where volume isn’t essential. In an environment where Lenny is so willing to push the envelope and train hard, we can rein in that overtraining a little bit. And in the contents of our program, I don’t think Lenny will be overtraining,” Salo said.

As for Peirsol, he’s used to the Salo method, which helped the Irvine resident develop into one of the sport’s greatest. Nevertheless, what about these two studs in the same water? It’s like having Michael Vick and Peyton Manning fighting for the QB spot.

“Yeah, well, you have to understand that there’s a real sense of competitiveness between Lenny and Aaron,” Salo said. “Lenny is still having shoulder problems, so we have to nurture that and take care of it. But unlike so many other athletes I’ve had who’ve had shoulder problems, Lenny doesn’t let that stop him from doing the work. I’m talking about giving 100 percent in every workout. He’ll kick, but he’ll kick at a level I’ve never seen before.”

Salo points to a hockey player to summarize Lenny’s approach to workouts, let alone races. “Like a hockey player, if he gets knocked up or cut on the face, he’ll get stitched up and be right back on the ice.”

Said Salo: “He gets frustrated when he can’t do what he’s asked to do swimming wise, because of his shoulder. I have to pull him aside and tell him, ‘Lenny, if you do 85 percent, you’re better than most people, because nobody is training at that level.’ Nobody is training at the level at which he trains.

The bottom line, said Salo, is that Krayzelburg wants to be better.

Past Accomplishments
In 2003, Krayzelburg’s accomplishments included second in the 100 and 200 meter backstroke at the Mutual of Omaha Duel in the Pool. He won his 11th U.S. national title, taking the 100 meter back at spring nationals. He was also second in the 200 meter back.

“He doesn’t care about winning the gold medal, and I believe him when he says this. He wants to be better, and if that means coming in second, but still bettering his best time, then he’ll be satisfied,” Salo said.

As for Peirsol, he’s currently a sophomore at the University of Texas, where he trains with the legendary Eddie Reese, who is also the 2004 men’s Olympic coach. Last year, Peirsol won gold at the FINA World Championships in Barcelona in the 100 and 200 meter back (both in Championship record time) and the 400 medley relay, which broke the world record. He also won silver on the American record-setting 800 freestyle relay and was eighth in the 50 back.

He won the 200 meter back and was third in the 100, and he led off the 400 medley relay that broke the U.S. Open record at the Mutual of Omaha Duel in the Pool. He also broke the American record in the 200 yard backstroke, becoming the first person to swim it under 1:40, winning his first NCAA title. Peirsol was also second in the 100 yard back at the NCAA Championships.

Will he come back and train with his mentor and coach?

“For the first time ever, he (Peirsol) called me and left a message about his workout. He’s never done that. So I don’t know what he was trying to tell me. I don’t know, but he might stay in Texas and train. My sense is that he will come home, rather than being quiet about it. But he’s real excited about Lenny being out here. And that could be the deciding factor as to whether he comes back and trains with me.”

If the two do train together_and they most likely will_one thing is for certain: for a coach, an experience like this generally comes around once in a lifetime. If ever!

“It’s something that is really satisfying for me,” Salo said. “To have the opportunity to coach these two great athletes and to have them want to train with me_what more can a coach ask for?” Salo said.

Erik Hamilton, who covered swimming for the Los Angeles Times, is a free-lance writer living in Irvine, Calif.

Sample Workout for Lenny and Aaron
By Dave Salo
Lenny is currently restricted to non-swimming as we continue his rehabilitation of his twice surgery-impacted shoulder. He is doing a great job, primarily kicking.
Warm-up: 400 + 4 x 100 + 4 x 50
12 x 50 @ Heart Rate 23 (10-sec. heart count is 23 beats or lower; initial heart rate should be above 28)
With fins on – Head up “AB KICK” 25 – flip – four dolphin kicks off the wall into V-sit kick
(AB KICK refers to relatively flat body position on the surface of the water, where the propulsion is generated more from the abs rather than the legs)
(V-sit position: sculling head first with shoulders and straight legs out of the water, forming a V position)
Kick (with tennis shoes)
300 (last 50 full speed @ 30-sec. rest )
4 x 75 (descend with the final 25 always fast @ 25-sec. rest)
200 (last 50 full speed @ 20-sec. rest)
4 x 75 (descend with the final 50 always fast @ 15-sec. rest)
100 (last 50 full speed @ 10-sec. rest )
4 x 75 (fast @ 5-sec. rest)
1 minute rest
4 x 75 (fast @ 5-sec. rest; NO SHOES)
100 (last 25 full speed kick)
4 x 75 (fast @ 15-sec. rest)
200 (last 75 full speed kick @ 20-sec. rest)
4 x 75 (fast @ 25-sec. rest)
300 (last 125 fast)
3 x 50 stretch @ 1:00
Little paddles or no paddles
6 x (100 + 4 x 25) @ 1:20/1:25/1:30/1:35/1:40/1:45 (100s); :20/:25/:30/:35 (25s)
(100s: overkick with very easy “light” arms without turnover rate; descend 1-3; 4-6)
(25s: alternate fast-fast-easy-fast; work rate and power from the kick and transitional speed from underwater to surface)
3 x 50 stretch @ 1:00
CORDS: attached to “tight” stretch cord (maximum resistance_have to work pretty hard to make 25 yard distance)
7 x 150 @ 1:00 rest between rounds
(Alternate odd 25s: with resistance dolphin kick, flutter kick, dolphin kick)
(Even 25s: fast flutter kick with assistance)
(At the end of each odd 25, kick against the wall with FLAT HANDS for 10 seconds)
3 x 50 stretch @ 1:00
2 x (10 x 50) @ choice interval (swimmer decides how many and the interval_for maximum speed)