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"Athletes are starting to say they can't do it." Even in boom times, most athletes struggle between Olympic games; post-Beijing, sponsorships have evaporated along with everything else in the economy."If you want to trim," says Myrtha Pools CEO Kevin Mc Grath, who would've sponsored at least one Olympian but for the recession, "this is at the top of the list."Lezak had hoped his golden sprint would make him immune to cutbacks.He earns ,000 to ,000 for motivational speeches, but after four bookings in January, he had only one in February."They're cutting those appearances left and right," says Olympic swimmer Kaitlin Sandeno, who just retired.
"The worst-case scenario is here," says Evan Morgenstein, Lezak's agent.
"He's one of those all-American, clean-cut, very nice guys."In any other era, Lezak's career already would be long over.
In the 1970s, Mark Spitz had to quit swimming when he was 22 because he had to get a job.
Lezak is the oldest swimmer here by nearly a decade, and if this doesn't work he's got some thinking to do.
"I'm committed to swim through the summer," he says. ' I'm married and I want a family."See all of the in these slideshows Many elite swimmers started out as teen prodigies, but Lezak, a native of Irvine, Calif., didn't make his Olympic debut until he was 24. "I just got a little better each year." All four of his gold medals have come in relays; he won his only individual medal, a bronze, in Beijing.