USA Swimming Long Course Nationals: Under the Flags From the Final Evening

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Column by Erik Boal

PALO ALTO, California, August 7. THE last time Brendan Hansen competed in a meaningful 200-meter breaststroke race, he said it was like a "car crash," as Eric Shanteau and Scott Spann – then Longhorn Aquatics teammates – passed him in the final 50 meters of the 2008 U.S. Olympic Trials, costing Hansen an opportunity to swim the event at the Beijing Olympics.

Since returning to the pool in December following a layoff of more than two years, Hansen said he's finally, "getting back in the car and trying to drive it again."

On the final night of the USA Long Course Swimming Nationals, Hansen drove himself all the way to his first 200 breaststroke national title in 2:10.59 seconds, the 13th-fastest time in the world this year, including the country's No. 2 effort behind American Eric Shanteau's fourth-place result of 2:09.28 at the FINA World Championships in Shanghai.

"That was just a great answer for me to get to set me up for the next 12 months," Hansen said. "I was scared of it for a long time, just waiting for someone to pass me in the last 50, just like the 2008 trials. But I haven't felt that good about a 200 breaststroke since 2006. That was the swim of the meet for me."

Hansen's only test run in the 200 breaststroke prior to Saturday was June 17 at the Santa Clara International Grand Prix, when he took second to Shanteau by a 2:13.52 to 2:14.56 margin.

"I was so nervous before that race because I had no idea what to expect, so I just sat on Eric's hip the entire time," Hansen said. "(Saturday) that was me swimming my own race. I wasn't feeling too good after the prelims, but I had this revelation before the race that it's a bigger pool and a better pool, so just go out and swim your own stroke. I would always tell myself I had the breaststroke, but I would never rely on it, but (Saturday) I did.

"Now I fully expect to be 2:08 next year, if not faster. My goal is to win The world records are BS, I just want to touch the wall first. When you're competing at the Olympics, that's all that matters."

Although Hansen has declined to compete in October at the Pan American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico, in order to continue training with coach Eddie Reese and the Longhorn Aquatics group, he is taking plenty of confidence into the remainder of the year, with the possibility of competing in the USA Swimming Short Course Nationals and/or the Duel in the Pool in Atlanta in December.

"I feel like I'm walking out of here with wings on," Hansen said. "Everybody was talking about a comeback and I kept saying I wasn't until I actually did something, but after this race I'm back. I'm so excited about where I am right now. That's the beauty of the sport, just when you think you're going to get out of it, it sucks you back in. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel now."

When asked by NBC reporter Alex Flanagan about his expectations for next year, Hansen responded, "I'm on a mission to make sure I'm on the U.S. team and to make sure we win a lot of gold."

Franklin steals the show again
Missy Franklin opened the meet with a stellar performance in the 100 backstroke and concluded it with a sensational effort in the 100 freestyle, giving her fellow competitors one final reminder about how much of an impact she could have at next year's Olympic Trials.

Franklin, 16, broke away from Colorado Stars' teammate Kara Lynn Joyce, California Aquatics' Dana Vollmer and Swim Atlanta's Amanda Weir in the final 50 meters to not only secure her second national title, but set the 15-16 national age-group record with a mark of 53.63.

Franklin's time would have secured the bronze medal at the World Championships in Shanghai.

"That's the hard part about selecting the team for World Championships 11 months out because anything can happen," Franklin said. "But being able to swim on those (400 medley and 800 freestyle) relays was unbelievable. That's something I'll always remember."

Franklin already secured the ConocoPhillips Performance award for her mark of 59.18 in the 100 backstroke Tuesday, which elevated her to No. 2 nationally behind Natalie Coughlin's bronze medal effort of 59.12 at World Championships and the fifth-fastest time in the world.

But her 100 freestyle performance provided the ideal conclusion to a two-week run for Franklin, who captured three gold medals in Shanghai, including an American record in the 200 backstroke.

"It helps motivate me so much. Being on the podium and hearing the national anthem just gets my heart pumping and the adrenaline racing," Franklin said. "I'm going to train my butt off for the next 11 months and work as hard as I can because I can't expect anything right now. If other people put expectations on me, I can't control that. But if I put expectations on myself, that just adds more pressure. I just want to focus on what I need to do to get better and not worry about anything else."

Vollmer continues to amaze, inspire
Because of Franklin's exceptional second 50, Dana Vollmer was unable to add a 100 free championship to her 100 butterfly national title Tuesday.

But Vollmer's bronze medal wasn't the focus Saturday, it was her time spent with Alex O'Dorisio, a 19-year-old student at Cal who shared a class this past year with Nathan Adrian.

O'Dorisio, who is battling sarcoma, and former Cal standout Vollmer were connected through the Make-A-Wish Foundation, creating a memorable experience for both the swimmer and her guest, as well as his family.

"It's crazy, it's surreal. I'm speechless, it's just a great experience. Dana is so kind, I can't thank her enough," said O'Dorisio, who was accompanied by his brother Alex.

"If this is the first step, I can't imagine what the Olympics are going to be like. My mind was just blank (on the awards podium). I was just trying to take in everything. It's a once-in-a lifetime experience."

Vollmer hopes to reconnect with O'Dorisio at the London Olympics, which he'll attend thanks to Make-A-Wish Foundation.

"Having him here made the race mean so much more," said Vollmer, who got involved with the organization after interacting with six Make-A-Wish kids at a Grand Prix meet in Texas in January.
"After reading how he's inspired so many people, I want be able to inspire people that same way. It was a new experience and I'm really thankful that Andrew got an opportunity to be a part of it."

The new kid on the podium
Gillian Ryan, 15, became the youngest national champion this week – male or female – with her come-from-behind win in the 800 freestyle Saturday in a personal-best 8:27.64, ascending her to No. 12 in the world this year and third in the country behind World Championships bronze medalist Kate Ziegler (8:23.36) and fourth-place finisher Chloe Sutton (8:24.05).

Ryan, a sophomore at Kutztown High School in Pennsylvania who competes for Parkland Aquatic Club, qualified to compete not only Aug. 16 at the FINA World Junior Championships in Lima, Peru, but also in October at the Pan Am Games in Mexico.

"I just wanted to have a good race and be happy with my performance, and I definitely did that," Ryan said. "I recognized that (my competitors) had exceptional skill and talent, but I tried to focus on my own race."

Ryan looks to continue her improvement with international experience on her resume in an attempt to challenge Ziegler and Sutton at next year's Olympic trials.

"The U.S. is so deep all across the board, but I'm just going to continue to trust in my training and my coaches," Ryan said. "I want to do sets that I think are impossible and do them to the best of my ability."

Grevers quietly rockets to the top
Tucson Ford's Matt Grevers secured the male high-point award following his first national title in the 200 backstroke (1:57.26), elevating to No. 11 in the world, but fourth among Americans behind Ryan Lochte, Tyler Clary and Michael Phelps. Lochte captured gold and Clary secured bronze at the World Championships.

Grevers was one of two male athletes, in addition to Brendan Hansen in the breaststroke events, to capture multiple individual titles, which, along with his efforts in the sprint freestyle races, helped him join Bluefish Swim Club's Elizabeth Beisel, a three-time champion, as high-point winners.

"Last year left a bad taste in my mouth (not making the World Championships team), but it's getting a little more sweet now," Grevers said. "For the past year, I've been doubting myself, but I feel like I'm more stable now. I've got to stop being a baby about swimming (the 200 backstroke) and get mentally tough and start preparing for it throughout the year. The bottom line is I need to train harder. I've got the easy speed down, now I just need more endurance and not hit the lane lines."

Fantastic finishes
Two of the most grueling races Saturday produced a pair of thrilling finishes, with SwimMAC Carolina's Micah Lawrence winning her first national title in the 200 breaststroke in 2:27.06, with the top seven athletes separated by less than a second, including runner-up Haley Spencer of Minnesota Aquatics (2:27.09).

After the two swimmers traded leads throughout the final 300 meters, Delaware Swim Team's Andrew Gemmell outlasted Sean Ryan of Tennessee's Scenic City Aquatic Club in the 1500 freestyle by a 15:01.31 to 15:01.43 margin, producing the world's 10th and 11th marks this year.

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