By John Lohn
LONG BEACH, Calif., July 7. HE'S in position to strike, and that's all Brendan Hansen wanted to gain from the opening day of competition at the United States Olympic Swimming Trials.
So, consider the American record he snared Wednesday night to be an added bonus, something extra in a week that could shape into one of the finest in the life of the Haverford High graduate.
Taking command from the start, Hansen overwhelmed the field in his semifinal of the 100-meter breaststroke, clocking 1:00.13. The time dipped below the American record Hansen shared with Ed Moses at 1:00.21.
More important, Hansen advanced to the finals of the 100 breast as the top seed, and as an overwhelming favorite to land a berth to the Athens Olympics. Mark Gangloff, swimming in the adjacent lane, qualified second with a time of 1:00.98.
Ed Moses, the silver medalist at the Sydney Olympics and a longtime rival of Hansen's, qualified fourth in 1:01.82. Scott Usher earned the third seed with a mark of 1:01.07.
"I'm feeling good about my speed, but I didn't get a good start, so it wasn't a perfect race," said Hansen, a 13-time NCAA champion at the University of Texas. "There's a lot to fix. To come out of that race the way I did was a good sign."
The fourth-fastest performer in the history of the 100 breast, Hansen is one race away from erasing the heartache of 2000, when he placed third in both breaststroke events and missed out on bids to the Sydney Olympics by hundredths of a second. Tomorrow night, a first or second-place effort will secure a ticket for Greece.
Gaining a trip to the birthplace of the Olympics has been Hansen's focus for the good part of four years, and the No. 1 priority since his collegiate career concluded in March. He has studied the events of 2000 intently, and has used the disappointment as motivation.
"What happened in Indianapolis won't happen again," Hansen has said on a number of occasions.
While that Olympic invitation is his primary focus, Hansen's also within range of the world record, held by Japan's Kosuke Kitajima at 59.78. Following his morning and semifinal swims, Hansen was besieged by Japanese reporters seeking Hansen's take on Kitajima.
Hansen, though, centered on his plan. Then again, that's always been his way.
"Brendan has worked really hard day in and day out," said Eddie Reese, Hansen's coach. "There are more talented people out there, but Brendan sets himself apart by his work ethic."
On cruise control during the morning preliminaries, Hansen easily advanced to the semifinal round as the No. 1 seed, as he clocked an impressive 1:00.83. The swim, perhaps the most impressive of the prelims, served as Hansen's icebreaker.
Really, his return to the world of Olympic qualifying couldn't have gone smoother.
"It was all a little different, with the pool outside, so I wanted to get used to the facility," Hansen said. "It was important for me to get a good swim under my belt. I had a lot left in the tank and felt strong in the water.
"Before prelims, I felt real good. I wanted to get that first swim in and get back into the flow of Trials. I'm a more mature swimmer now, not the 18-year-old kid just out of high school."
The day was about staying safe and avoiding mistakes. Nothing could be gained during this first day of action, but plenty could have been lost. A false start. An illegal turn. Those were the pitfalls. Hansen avoided any mishaps.
Still, he was able to uncork an American record, and he now holds American standards in the 100-meter breast, along with the 200-yard breast. He's also a world-record holder in the 400-meter medley relay. What he doesn't own is an Olympic berth.
"It's nice to get an American record," he said. "But, there are bigger and better things out there."
Get the picture?