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Peirsol talks about his retirement

Five-time Olympic gold medalist reveals reasons for retiring and expresses that he's content.

February 02, 2011|By Steve Virgen, steve.virgen@latimes.com

Olympic aspirations began at a young age for Peirsol, who trained with Dave Salo and Brian Pajer of the Novaquatics. Pajer, who now heads Irvine Aquazots and coached UC Irvine swim teams until the sport was eliminated two years ago, developed Peirsol into a backstroke swimmer.

Salo, the former Orange Coast College coach who is still in charge of Novaquatics and is the head coach at USC, told a 13-year-old Peirsol he could make the Olympics. He made it at 16.

"I felt comfortable projecting that," Salo told the Daily Pilot in 2004. "You can't do that with every swimmer. But he's special. What has made him different is that he has accepted the challenge of being the world-record holder in the backstroke. He's different than most people. He's a confident, young man. He's not necessarily cocky. People tend to think he's some sort of surfer dude, because he's from Newport Beach, but I don't think that's him. He's just casual. And, he has a lot of confidence."

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Peirsol displayed that confidence throughout his career, holding the world record in the 100 and 200 back and being referred to as the Backstroke King. In 2002, he led Newport Harbor to its first CIF Southern Section Division I team championship, as he won two individual titles and was on two winning freestyle relays.

He also went on to star for two years at the University of Texas. He won three gold medals at the 2004 Olympics, sweeping the backstroke races and contributing to the victorious 400 medley relay. He won two gold medals at the 2008 Olympics in the 100 back and 400 medley relay.

Peirsol also won 10 long-course world titles, as well as six world championships in short-course races.

Peirsol said he plans to enroll in a graduate program. He also continues work with projects for keeping the oceans clean. He said he wants to stay around the sport and wants to go to the 2012 Olympics to cheer for the Americans.

He said he still loves to swim. He won't compete, but he still wants to just swim, he said.

"I'm free right now and it feels good," Peirsol said. "I'm taking it easy right now."

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