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Hometown Hero, Brendan Hansen, Returns Home -- August 6, 2003

By John Lohn

HAVERFORD, Penn., August 6. SOME asked for autographs. Others preferred a picture. A handful of individuals just wanted a handshake. What was unanimous was this: Brendan Hansen was the main attraction.

As the Daily Times sponsored its sixth Elite Meet ó the summer championship of Delaware County swimming ó Hansen held center stage last night, serving as the main topic of conversation for the sizable crowd at Karakung Swim Club.

Less than two weeks ago, Hansen boarded a plane out of Barcelona, Spain with a three-medal haul from the 10th edition of the World Swimming Championships.

He was the silver medalist in the 100-meter breaststroke, an honor accompanied by an American record. He was the bronze medalist in the 200 breaststroke. He claimed a gold medal ó and a piece of a world record ó as a member of the United Statesí 400-meter medley relay.

As a result, the Haverford High School graduate was the focal point of the evening, his status as a world-class athlete hardly overlooked. Yet, in his eyes, there was nothing special about his presence.

"I donít really look at this as giving back," said Hansen, who spent his summers competing at Karakung.
"This was something I wanted to do. Iím just visiting a place where I grew up."

Adept in the water, Hansen is equally skilled in the management of his fame, growing at a constant rate. Besieged from the second he wandered through the poolís entryway, Hansen simply flashed a deckside smile, taking time to scribble his name for young and old.

Itís a familiar routine, customary territory for an athlete rated among the globeís elite breaststrokers. Heís signed his Hancock thousands of times. Heíll sign it a thousand more, always understanding that it is ó basically ó a responsibility.

"When I was a little kid, I remember looking up to the older guys," said Hansen, entering his senior year at the University of Texas. "If I have the chance to make a kid happy, thatís great. Itís neat to see a little kid get excited. That used to be me."

In a sport not considered mainstream, Hansen has captured the attention of the Delaware County sports community. Letís face it: Delco has an appreciation of greatness.

Hansen, certainly, falls into that category, his resume serving as support. Heís a 10-time NCAA champion and two-time national champion. Heís the finest breaststroker in America. Heís a legitimate contender for Olympic gold.

"When we started this thing, the fact that guys like (Hansen) competed, thatís what made it," said Bill Myers, co-founder of the Elite Meet, along with Mike Kernicky. "Heís had a lot to do with the success of this meet.

"Heís been brought up right. Heís terrific with the little kids, signing autographs and posing for pictures. You donít see that in a lot of athletes. Heís just a great kid."

Admittedly, Hansen is worn down. The balancing act of school and intense training has temporarily taken its toll. For that reason, the 21-year-old is savoring every moment of his stay in Havertown.

For a brief period ó until he returns to school ó heís returned to the typical lifestyle of a 20-something guy. Heís eating home-cooked meals. Heís hanging out with friends. Heís taking it easy, cognizant of what awaits.

In just a few weeks, Hansen will return to his double-duty world and embark on a 10-month journey toward Long Beach, Calif., the site of the United States Olympic Trials. Ultimately, Hansen is chasing a plane ticket to Athens.

"Itís been great," said Hansen of his down time. "My mom is pampering me and Iíve had a chance to catch up with a lot of people. Itís nice to enjoy life and relax a little bit. Itís nice being a normal guy.

"When I get back to school, everything starts again. Iím happy with how things went at the World Championships, but youíre never your best. I know I can accomplish more, and thatís keeping me motivated. These next 10 months are as important as it gets. The Olympics are my No. 1 goal."

A member of two NCAA championship squads at Texas, Hansen recently decided against the enticing option of turning professional. Instead, the money will wait, allowing Hansen one more season of collegiate eligibility.

Really, whatís another year of amateur status? "It crossed my mind," Hansen said of the professional ranks. "I had a lot of talks about it, but Iím happy with how everything worked out. One day, Iíll hit the European circuit and have the chance to see new countries, but I can wait for that. For me, itís never been about the money. I just love the sport."

So, at Texas, Hansen will continue his chase of Japanís Kosuke Kitajima, the world-record holder in the 100 and 200 breaststroke events and the reigning world champion in each discipline. Whole-heartedly, Hansen is confident he can close the gap on his rival.

He has a year to accomplish the mission.

"I donít think (Kitajima) has as much motivation as I do," Hansen said. "I was the guy he beat. I was the guy who watched him pass me. Thatís in my mind. Iím the one with the motivation. I donít know if itís in my genes, but I love chasing people down."

Last night, it was Hansen who was chased. He was caught every time, an autograph the price of his success.

He didnít seem to mind.