By John Lohn
IRVINE, California, July 31. AS a veteran member of Team USA, Brendan Hansen has established an identity as a good-natured and humorous individual. Over the years, he has been an enthusiastic cheerleader of his teammates, a guy big on lending support. He’s also been a comedian of sorts, reflected in his Saturday Night Live spoofs during team-building exercises.
Yet, when he hits the water, he’s a loner. He’s usually surrounded by no one, a rarity in swimming, and a testament to the talent that has made Hansen one of the finest swimmers in the world. And, for as long as Hansen remains a professional athlete, he’s perfectly content maintaining his isolated ways when it comes to race time.
The last time Hansen failed to claim victory in major American competition was the summer of 2002, when he split his 100 and 200 breaststroke matchups with Ed Moses at the United States National Championships. In the four years since that meet, Hansen has created an almost unfathomable gap between himself and his domestic opposition. Even on the international stage, there are few who can sniff the air in which Hansen competes.
This morning, U.S. Nationals get under way at the William Woollett Aquatic Center in Irvine, Calif. The meet serves as the selection competition for the Pan Pacific Championships, scheduled for later this month in British Columbia, Canada, and will also influence the selection process for next year’s World Championships in Melbourne.
Hansen is viewed as a lock to win each of his races, the 100- and 200-meter breaststrokes. He is the world-record holder in each discipline and has the fastest seed time in the shorter distance by more than a second and the quickest seed time in the longer race by three-plus seconds. Really, Hansen is racing the clock and himself more than he is his fellow competitors.
“I’ve always been able to motivate myself,” he said. “I don’t worry about what’s going on around me. I just try to focus on what I need to do.”
Given his untouchable status on the American scene, Hansen couldn’t be blamed if boredom struck. After all, many athletes achieve greatness when pushed by a rival who threatens to steal some thunder. Since Hansen does not have that nemesis in the United States, he looks elsewhere for inspiration.
It’s no secret that Hansen has always possessed an insatiable hunger to soar from level to level. That desire is one attribute that has led him to international acclaim. So, despite producing some of the swiftest times in history at last summer’s World Champs in Montreal, where he won three gold medals, Hansen wasn’t entirely content with the outcome.
“I thought I could have done more,” he said. “I’ve been really motivated by not breaking any of my world records. 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.”
Eddie is Eddie Reese, Hansen’s coach during his collegiate career at the University of Texas and now his mentor with Longhorn Aquatics. Together, Hansen and Reese devised a training plan that would benefit the breaststroker more than ever, giving him a combination of speed and stamina never before seen in the stroke.
Whether Hansen can crack his world-record times of 59.30 for the 100 and 2:09.04 for the 200 will be determined in the coming days. Certainly, he appears capable. In June, Hansen clocked his best mid-training time in the 200 breast while winning the event at the Santa Clara International Meet. Then last month, he popped the fastest mid-training time of his career in the 100 breast while tuning up at the Texas Senior Circuit Championships.
"This has been the hardest training I've ever put in," he said. "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.”
It all could add up to more fireworks for a guy who, while in the water, parties alone.