By John Lohn
LONG BEACH, Calif., July 9. THE journey, 1,400-plus days in the making, came to a close Thursday night, with the clock reading 5:40 p.m. In just over 59 seconds, Brendan Hansen changed history – his history.
Early in the afternoon, the events of Indianapolis ran through his mind. He remembered the pain. He recalled the pair of third-place finishes, outcomes that left him just shy of his Olympic dream.
This morning, though, the door has been slammed shut on 2000, where Hansen competed in his first United States Olympic Trials. He's no longer that near-miss athlete. Rather, Hansen is an Olympian and – as an added bonus – a world-record holder in an individual event.
Unloading from the start, the Haverford High graduate packaged the greatest performance of his career Thursday, winning the 100-meter breaststroke in 59.30 at the U.S. Trials in Long Beach, Calif. That quickly, he was ridded of the demons that chased him for a four-year period.
"After 2000, I was a man on a mission," said Hansen, who blasted the former world record, held at 59.78 by Japan's Kosuke Kitajima. "The visions from that meet never left me. To do what I did tonight hasn't hit me yet, and probably won't until tomorrow. But I'm not ready to celebrate. I still have the 200 left."
Yes, even in his greatest moment, he remained focused on his remaining schedule.
"The best way to think of 2000 is having your dog get run over," Hansen said "It hurts. After that, Charlie Kennedy, my coach at the time, told me to decide what I wanted to do. I could let it affect me, or I could use it as a positive."
Kennedy, who guided Hansen as a youngster at Suburban Swim Center, was present for Hansen's glorious moment, and joined his former protégé during the awards ceremony, as did Eddie Reese, Hansen's coach at the University of Texas.
Clad in a silver Nike warmup suit, Hansen walked to the blocks with an air of confidence. He was not going to lose this race. It was Hansen and Lane Four, nothing else.
Producing one of the best starts of his career, Hansen took control of the race by the 25-meter mark, only to expand his lead with every stroke. At the midway point, he touched the wall in 27.93. On the return trip, he seemingly gained strength, until his time elicited a standing ovation from the crowd of 10,000.
The finish was in stark contrast to four years ago, when Hansen stared at the No. 3 with frustration. This time, he would not be denied, although a look of amazement certainly crossed his face.
In becoming the fastest man in history, and the first American to break the one-minute barrier, Hansen was followed to the wall by Mark Gangloff, who checked in at 1:00.87. The margin of victory was overwhelming.
"The start was the key to the first 50," he said. "It was the momentum part of the race. When I hit the wall and turned, I said 'See Ya.' I've done that last 50 over and over. It was the same old thing for me.
"Tonight was the chance to get all the little things right. I felt good, but I was nervous. I had flashbacks all day about what happened four years ago. But this was my time and my place."
In Indianapolis, Hansen was the upstart breaststroker, the guy who had an outside chance of making the Sydney Olympic team. Ultimately, a trip Down Under wasn't meant to be. So, Hansen turned the disappointment into motivation.
After leaving Havertown for his collegiate career at Texas, Hansen began to rocket up the world-ranking charts. Aside from dominating the competition at the NCAA level, he supplanted Ed Moses as America's top breaststroker.
He snagged a world championship in the 200 breast in 2001, his first breakthrough at the international level, and followed last year with a three-medal haul at the World Championships in Barcelona. Basically, he's followed a perfect blueprint.
"I'm glad it's over," said Miriam Hansen, Brendan's mother. "The wait has been hard, but the outcome is unbelievable. I just wanted him to make the team. I didn't expect this. I haven't processed everything. I'm so happy for him."
After being introduced to the crowd as America's most recent Olympic qualifier, Hansen took a walk around the pool deck. As he arrived at the section where his family was seated, he pointed in their direction. It was a reflection of a connection that has been present since his scholastic days.
"When he hit the (midpoint), I knew the race was his," said Buzz Hansen, Brendan's father. "It was a matter of the time. I was amazed at the way he was swimming. He was getting faster and faster, and holding his speed. I thought, 'Oh, my God'"
With his world-record swim, Hansen – obviously – becomes the favorite for gold in Athens. First, though, he'll enjoy living in the moment, and without the haunting images of Indianapolis.
"I was racing Brendan Hansen from 2000," he said.
The most recent version won – in a big way.