By John Lohn
BARCELONA, July 22. SINCE the day he captured his first state championship — while in high school, back in 1997 — he was destined for greatness, considered the future of the breaststroke in American swimming.
In the time since that breakthrough performance, he has consistently dazzled, always furthering his status as one of the premier swimmers in the United States. He won a quartet of state championships, exiting the scholastic ranks with a national record.
In three years on the collegiate scene, he has won 10 NCAA championships — six of the individual variety.
On the national spectrum, he has corralled a pair of United States crowns, a complement to the World Championship he collected in 2001.
As predicted long ago, Brendan Hansen has enjoyed an astounding swimming career, one filled with endless success. Consequently, a question has emerged: When will he cease amazing?
The answer: Not in the near future.
Bolstering his legacy, Hansen annexed another chapter to his swimming story yesterday, earning a silver medal in the 100-meter breaststroke at the 10th World Swimming Championships, held in Barcelona, Spain.
Clocking 1:00.21, Hansen not only earned his second world championship medal, the Haverford High graduate and University of Texas senior equaled the American record in the event, joining Ed Moses in the record book.
Japan’s Kosuke Kitajima won the championship, establishing a world-record time of 59.78 for the two-lap event. James Gibson of Great Britain snared the bronze medal, with Moses settling for a disappointing fourth-place finish.
“The night before, the numbers were going through my head as to what I could do,” Hansen said last night from his hotel room. “I just decided to forget about that stuff and race. I got on the blocks and felt great. I was looking for a medal.”
He got it.
After cruising through preliminaries and semifinals, Hansen packaged a spectacular final. Sitting in third place heading into the turn, the four-time All-Delco selection blistered the final half of his race, using his closing speed to pass Gibson down the stretch.
Hansen’s time made him the third-fastest performer in history and handed Hansen a place on the United States 400-meter medley relay, a heavy favorite to emerge with gold on the final night of the competition.
“Going into the first wall, I picked it up and started eating away,” Hansen said. “I never saw Kitajima. He swam a great race. I’m real happy with this. It felt good to finally get in the water. I was tired of waiting around. This has me going.
“The experience from two years ago was a big help. You have to get used to the atmosphere and get a feel for everything. I had a good understanding of the flow. I was used to this.”
In addition to strengthening his resume, Hansen reinforced his status as an Olympic-medal contender in 2004. When the Games return to their birthplace next summer — Athens, Greece — only a stunning development would prevent Hansen from a run at a podium position.
With his share of the American record in the 100-meter breast, Hansen now owns three major records, his latest standard accompanied by an American record in the 200-yard breaststroke and a world record as a member of the U.S. 400-meter medley relay.
Often overshadowed by Moses, Hansen has — at least — pulled equal with his countryman. As a duo, no country can match the United States’ firepower in the breaststroke event.
Only 21 years old and continually raising the bar, Hansen is as accomplished a breaststroker as this nation has ever seen, his finest outings delivered in the most pressure-packed scenarios. In a sport where specialization is a norm in some circles, Hansen has established himself as a dual threat, equal parts sprinter (100 breast) and grinder (200 breast).
“All I want is to be one of the top guys,” Hansen said. “I don’t want to be looked at as a one-event guy. It means something to say you can do more than one thing. I’m proud of that. The 200 is still my best event. The 100 is still a learning process, but it’s coming along.”
With the 100 breast now history, Hansen’s attention has turned to the 200 breaststroke, an event in which he is not only the defending world champion, but the fifth-fastest performer in history.
Aided by a day of rest, Hansen will dip back into the pool tomorrow for the preliminaries and semifinals of his signature event. Should everything break according to plan, the championship race could be the highlight of the competition.
Aside from Hansen, the 200 breast final is likely to include Dimitri Komornikov of Russia, the world-record holder at 2:09.52, and Kitajima, whose record Komornikov erased.
“I have a load of confidence,” Hansen said. “The jitters are gone. I’m going to take advantage of my day off and do things smart. I have to forget about the 100. It’s over. It’s a matter of settling down and moving forward.
“I’m feeling good for the 200. Everything feels right. In his press conference, the Japanese guy said he could go 2:08. Let’s do it. I’m ready to go with him. (Kitajima) looked good, but I’m going to be tough. It’s going to be a great race.”
Upon conclusion of the World Championships, Hansen will spend approximately a month at home, a period of needed rest. First, though, he’s intent on finishing this meet in grand fashion.
“I’m excited to come home,” Hansen said. “But I’m staying focused. I have more to take care of here. I have a job to finish.”