By John Lohn
MELBOURNE, Australia, March 26. WHEN it mattered most, Brendan Hansen delivered. Behind Japan's Kosuke Kitajima in the preliminary round and semifinals, Hansen took it up a notch in the final and mined gold in the 100 breaststroke. Hansen took the lead from the start and held off Kitajima down the stretch to prevail in 59.80. Kitajima earned the silver in 59.96.
The showdown was the latest in a long line of battles between the breaststrokers. The Hansen-Kitajima rivalry has been one of the sport's best of the decade, a back-and-forth exchange of championships and records. While Kitajima bettered Hansen in 2003 (World Champs) and 2004 (Olympics), Hansen has been in control since Athens. Not only has he lowered his world records, he won double gold at the World Championships in Montreal two years ago and doubled again at last summer's Pan Pacific Champs.
Hansen gained momentum in each round, slicing sizable chunks of time from morning to night, and finally to the championship race. While his winning time was off his world-record standard of 59.13, set last summer at the United States Nationals, Hansen simply wanted the win. He split 27.67 at the 50-meter mark to Kitajima's split of 27.79.
"That was a battle," Hansen said. "I'm not real pleased with the time, but you can't always break the world record. (Kitajima) is a great competitor. I couldn't see him, but I knew he was there. I just put the blinders on and experience came through."
The bronze medal went to Australia's Brenton Rickard, much to the delight of the Melbourne crowd. Rickard was timed in 1:00.58, narrowly holding off the Ukraine's Valeriy Dymo (1:00.60). The Ukraine also took fifth when Oleg Lisogor checked in at 1:00.83. Lisogor is one of the favorites in the 50 breast, scheduled to start tomorrow.