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Column by Erik Boal
PALO ALTO, California, August 5. JESSICA Hardy might not have delivered the best 100-meter breaststroke race of her career Thursday night at the USA Swimming Long Course Nationals, but the world-record holder definitely fired off a one-liner worthy of a gold medal during the post-race interview.
When asked by NBC reporter Alex Flanagan on deck about her level of fatigue after competing in the FINA World Championships last week in Shanghai, then taking on the challenge of winning her first summer national title since 2008, the charismatic Hardy responded: "We're all struggling really bad, but if it was meant to be easy, they'd call it cheerleading."
The statement garnered mixed reactions throughout the crowd, but nonetheless, Hardy was thankful for the opportunity to win another national title following a disappointing seventh-place finish last year in Irvine in 1:09.24.
"I made the decision in the race, don't do what I did last year," said Hardy, who prevailed in 1:06.81, well off the world's second-fastest time of 1:05.90 that she produced at the Charlotte UltraSwim in May.
"It was a very gratifying race. I feel like it was growth for me. That race has been pretty fragile the past couple of years, so it's been about me rebuilding my confidence and relearning how to have fun with it."
Like fellow national teamer Ryan Lochte, Hardy made the decision to skip the final two days of competition after she contributed to Trojan Swim Club's eighth-place finish in the 800 freestyle relay (8:10.46). She even skipped the prelims of the 50 freestyle, an event in which she placed eighth in Shanghai, to focus on the 100 breaststroke and the relay.
"I'm not happy with the time whatsoever, but I'm just grateful to have such a good race because that was a really strong field," Hardy said. "This whole meet is a cruel joke. It's kind of awful putting nationals this close to Worlds, so it truly is excruciating. I'm just glad I was able to hold it together because usually I don't finish strong. Mentally, that was important for me."
Silver lining for Adrian is gold
If only Cal Aquatics' Nathan Adrian had posted the 50 freestyle time he did Thursday at the World Championships, he could have been wearing a silver medal around his neck.
But Adrian was still content with his victorious effort Thursday of 21.84, elevating himself to No. 4 in the world this year. It was Adrian's fifth consecutive national title in the event, including his third straight summer crown.
"The only reason I came back here is because after talking with my coach, I knew I had more in the tank," said Adrian, who clocked 21.93 in Shanghai, one-hundredth off the final podium spot occupied by France's Alain Bernard.
"I know there's an even faster swim in me, but it would just take more rest. I'm happy I got to come here, since it's an hour away from where I live, and race these guys. I knew it would have (gotten me silver in Shanghai) but that quickly, it's got to exit my mind."
Adrian said he doesn't expect to compete in the 100 freestyle prelims Friday, where another showdown with Longhorn Aquatics' Jimmy Feigen could have materialized. Feigen took second in the 50 in 22.03 – just ahead of Garrett Weber-Gale (22.04) – and is highly motivated to excel in the 100 after recovering from right knee surgery, along with food poisoning slowing him at last year's nationals.
"The rest of the world is getting faster and there's a lot of young swimmers who are working hard and who are hungry right now to make their mark," Adrian said. "This, for instance, is a good stepping stone for us for next year."
Hansen making waves in his return
Before the competition started Thursday night at Stanford, there was plenty of action in the pool and on the deck in between the prelims and finals.
Trojan Swim Club's Mike Alexandrov and SwimMAC Carolina's Kevin Swander took part in a 100 breaststroke time trial, with one very interested spectator in Longhorn Aquatics' Brendan Hansen.
Although Hansen won the national title Tuesday in 1:00.08, he was interested to see if Swander, the runner-up in the championship heat, or the fifth-place finisher Alexandrov would improve upon his No. 9 time in the world this year.
Alexandrov did move up to No. 13 on the world's performance list with a 1:00.30, followed by Swander in 1:00.9, it wasn't enough to overtake Hansen, who is determined to regain his status as the elite breaststroker in the country in time for next year's Olympic Trials.
"I'm not here to just be a national champion, I'm trying to prepare myself for the next 12 months," said Hansen, wearing a "Say I Won't" T-shirt. "I'm on a mission. I'm going to go for it for sure."
Hansen enjoyed taking part in a brief conversation on the deck with NBC and Universal Sports analyst Rowdy Gaines for a few minutes following Thursday's time trial, picking up where they left off Tuesday night when Hansen concluded their on-air dialogue by respectfully disagreeing with Gaines for referring to Japan's Kosuke Kitajima as the "greatest breaststroke ever."
Gaines' response was: "I hope you prove me wrong."
But after watching the American men get shut out from the medal podium in the 50, 100 and 200 breaststroke events at World Championships, Hansen said he was even more motivated to make sure that doesn't happen again in the 100 and 200 at the London Olympics.
"I was steaming mad watching that at home. I want to make sure the U.S. is dominant in everything and not to medal in the 100 breaststroke pissed me off," Hansen said. "I'm sure there's some guys in that final who might not be happy that I'm back, but that's why I'm here."
Beisel pulls off double play
Bluefish Swim Club's Elizabeth Beisel dipped below 4:35 in the 400 individual medley for the third time in five days to capture her second national title in three years in 4:34.78 after securing her first World Championships gold medal Sunday in 4:31.78.
Beisel is one of only two American swimmers, joining 100 butterfly winner Dana Vollmer, to capture titles in her event in Palo Alto and Shanghai.
When asked if she'd take on the challenge of swimming two demanding meets in consecutive weeks again in the future, Beisel didn't shy away from the opportunity.
"This race definitely shows how tough it's been, but I guess all the hard work is finally paying off," Beisel said. "This week has been pretty gruesome, but I definitely think I would try it. I love racing, all the opportunities I get. But I'm definitely glad to get that one under my belt. That hurt a lot more than (Sunday)."