By John Lohn
ASTON, Pennsylvania, June 21. THE wiring of a world-class athlete isn’t something always understood by Joe Everyday. The small percentage who compete at the highest level in their chosen sport arrive at that point, in part, because they possess a never-satisfied mentality.
The elite don’t often look at history, even if past calendars include Olympic glory and world-record performances. Rather, they gaze forward, frequently asking themselves one question: What can I do next?
Which brings us to Brendan Hansen, perhaps the finest breaststroker the sport has seen. And, if not No. 1, then knocking on the door of that distinction. Decorated at every level, Hansen is one of those athletes who takes the clean-slate approach.
So, beginning Friday at the 39th edition of the Santa Clara International Swim Meet, the triple-Olympic medalist will begin to write his latest chapter, albeit softly. The competition is nothing more than a tuneup for August’s Summer Nationals in Irvine, Calif. and the Pan Pacific Championships that will follow two weeks later.
But, it is a start toward what Hansen hopes is a summer full of major success, achievements he’ll likely forget almost immediately after they are recorded. That’s just the way he is: Focused and hungry.
"This has been the hardest training I’ve ever put in," said Hansen, whose practices have been monitored by legendary coach Eddie Reese. "I’ve been doing some crazy things during workouts, things I’ve never been able to do before. I’ve also been smart, eating well and watching my diet. I’m more tired than I’ve ever been going into a meet, but I realized I needed to step it up after last year and sacrifice the little meets."
What Hansen accomplished last year was nothing short of spectacular. Consider:
** He mined gold at the World Championships in the 100 and 200 breaststroke events and also helped the United States claim victory in the 400 medley relay, along with his Longhorn Aquatic teammates, Aaron Peirsol and Ian Crocker.
** He posted the second and third-fastest times in history in the 100 breaststroke, behind only his world record from the 2004 Olympic trials. For good measure, he also notched the sixth and ninth-fastest marks in the event.
** He popped the sixth, eighth and 10th-fastest swims in the history of the 200 breaststroke and became just the second man to dip below the 2:10 mark more than once.
But, what was his overall impression of the season?
"I thought I could have done more," Hansen said. "I’ve been really motivated by not breaking any of my world records. I watched Ian and Aaron break their records and I was frustrated that I didn’t do the same thing. I talked to Eddie about it and he said my time would come. But that’s one of the reasons I’ve put in so much work. I just decided to go as hard as I could. I’m ready to see the hard work pay off."
There’s a good chance Hansen will reap the rewards of his dedication in early August, when he steps onto the blocks for Summer Nationals. That meet will serve as the selection competition for the Pan Pacific Championships and, more importantly, next year’s World Championships in Melbourne.
The venue for Nationals, the William Woollett Aquatic Center, has been good to Hansen. At last year’s Duel in the Pool, he churned through the facility’s water for 100 and 200 breast wins of 59.51 and 2:10.07, despite the races being only 45 minutes apart. In his next visit, Hansen hopes to take down his global standards of 59.30 and 2:09.04.
While his in-water training is at an all-time high, Hansen has also altered his routine away from the pool. Two months ago, he began taking yoga classes and adhering to a new stretching routine. He’s also adjusted his 8,000-calorie intake by watching more closely the types of food he eats.
On a regular basis since early this month, Hansen has eaten dinner with his younger sister, Megan, a roommate for the summer at his Austin home. Heading into her junior year at Southern Connecticut State University, the youngest Hansen is training with Longhorn Aquatics and also cooking up some impressive meals at night while bonding with her sibling.
"I think a lot of where I am right now has to do with Megan coming down," Hansen said. "It’s been fun sitting down for dinner and nice to have her here. We’ve grown closer. It’s great to have family by your side."
Unrelated to swimming, Hansen has taken advantage of some of the free time afforded by his graduation from the University of Texas. Instead of taking classes and writing papers, Hansen has become certified in scuba and is taking guitar lessons. He’s also had time to remodel his house.
Simply put, Hansen has found a perfect balance between the demands of the pool and his personal life. Credit experience and a strong mentality for his ability to flourish in both worlds.
"I’ve found some things that help me relax," he said. "If I find things I want to do, I go out and do them. This weekend, I’m looking to get the cobwebs out by doing some racing. Over the years, you get these nagging injuries and wonder if they’ll ever go away. But right now, I’m as healthy as I’ve ever been. It’s a great feeling."