When Brendan Hansen Earned World-Record Status…And Vanquished Demons (Video)

Brendan Hansen

When Brendan Hansen Earned World-Record Status…And Vanquished Demons

Today marks the 16th anniversary of the first of five individual world records for Brendan Hansen, the United States breaststroke star who collected six career Olympic medals. Hansen entered the 2004 U.S. Olympic Trials in Long Beach as the favorite to prevail in both breaststroke events, and the University of Texas standout did not disappoint. From the archive, here is what was written on the evening of July 8, 2004, following Hansen’s world-record performance in the 100-meter breaststroke.

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The journey, 1,400-plus days in the making, came to a close Thursday night, with the clock reading 5:40 p.m. In just over 59 seconds, Brendan Hansen changed history – his history.

Early in the afternoon, the events of Indianapolis ran through his mind. He remembered the pain. He recalled the pair of third-place finishes, outcomes that left him just shy of his Olympic dream.

This morning, though, the door has been slammed shut on 2000, where Hansen competed in his first United States Olympic Trials. He’s no longer that near-miss athlete. Rather, Hansen is an Olympian and – as a bonus – a world-record holder in an individual event.

Unloading from the start, Hansen packaged the greatest performance of his career Thursday, winning the 100-meter breaststroke in 59.30 at the U.S. Trials in Long Beach, Calif. That quickly, he was ridded of the demons that chased him for a four-year period.

“After 2000, I was a man on a mission,” said Hansen, who blasted the former world record, held at 59.78 by Japan’s Kosuke Kitajima. “The visions from that meet never left me. To do what I did tonight hasn’t hit me yet, and probably won’t until tomorrow. But I’m not ready to celebrate. I still have the 200 left.”

Yes, even in his greatest moment, he remained focused on his remaining schedule. That mentality greatly explains why Hansen was able to bounce back from his initial Olympic Trials disappointment. In 2000, Hansen finished third in the 100 breast to Ed Moses and Pat Calhoun, and was third in the 200 breast to Kyle Salyards and Tom Wilkens.

Brendan_Hansen

Brendan Hansen post-race Photo Courtesy: Brendan Hansen

The outcome of the 200 breaststroke hurt most, as Hansen was .15 shy of a trip to the Sydney Olympics. More, the way he was charging down the final lap, all he needed was another meter to catch Wilkens. But the wall is never movable, and Hansen was forced to deal with his oh-so-close efforts.

“The best way to think of 2000 is having your dog get run over,” Hansen said “It hurts. After that, Charlie Kennedy, my coach at the time, told me to decide what I wanted to do. I could let it affect me, or I could use it as a positive.”

Kennedy, who guided Hansen as a youngster at Suburban Swim Center, was present for Hansen’s glorious moment, and joined his former protégé during the awards ceremony, as did Eddie Reese, Hansen’s coach at the University of Texas.

Clad in a silver Nike warmup suit, Hansen walked to the blocks with an air of confidence. He was not going to lose this race. It was Hansen and Lane Four, nothing else.

Producing one of the best starts of his career, Hansen took control of the race by the 25-meter mark, only to expand his lead with every stroke. At the midway point, he touched the wall in 27.93. On the return trip, he seemingly gained strength, until his time elicited a standing ovation from the crowd of 10,000.

By cracking the minute barrier for the first time, Hansen joined Russia’s Roman Sludnov and Kitajima in elite company. Sludnov was the first man to visit the 59-second realm, accomplishing the feat twice in the summer of 2001. Kitajima took the record down to 59.78 in 2003.

The finish was in stark contrast to four years ago, when Hansen stared at the No. 3 with frustration. This time, he would not be denied, although a look of amazement certainly crossed his face. In becoming the fastest man in history, and the first American to break the one-minute barrier, Hansen was followed to the wall by Mark Gangloff, who checked in at 1:00.87. The margin of victory was overwhelming.

“The start was the key to the first 50,” he said. “It was the momentum part of the race. When I hit the wall and turned, I said ‘See Ya.’ I’ve done that last 50 over and over. It was the same old thing for me. Tonight was the chance to get all the little things right. I felt good, but I was nervous. I had flashbacks all day about what happened four years ago. But this was my time and my place.”

In Indianapolis, Hansen was the upstart breaststroker, the guy who had an outside chance of making the Sydney Olympic team. Ultimately, a trip Down Under wasn’t meant to be. So, Hansen turned the disappointment into motivation.

After leaving his Southeastern Pennsylvania home for his collegiate career at Texas, Hansen began to rocket up the world-ranking charts. Aside from dominating the competition at the NCAA level, he supplanted Moses as America’s top breaststroker. He snagged a world championship in the 200 breast in 2001, his first breakthrough at the international level, and followed last year with a three-medal haul at the World Championships in Barcelona. Basically, he’s followed a perfect blueprint.

“I’m glad it’s over,” said Miriam Hansen, Brendan’s mother. “The wait has been hard, but the outcome is unbelievable. I just wanted him to make the team. I didn’t expect this. I haven’t processed everything. I’m so happy for him.”

Eddie Reese and Brendan Hansen

Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

After being introduced to the crowd as America’s most recent Olympic qualifier, Hansen took a walk around the pool deck. As he arrived at the section where his family was seated, he pointed in their direction. It was a reflection of a connection that has been present since his high school days.

“When he hit the (midpoint), I knew the race was his,” said Buzz Hansen, Brendan’s father. “It was a matter of the time. I was amazed at the way he was swimming. He was getting faster and faster, and holding his speed. I thought, ‘Oh, my God'”

With his world-record swim, Hansen – obviously – becomes the favorite for gold in Athens. First, though, he’ll enjoy living in the moment, and without the haunting images of Indianapolis.

“I was racing Brendan Hansen from 2000,” he said.

The most recent version won – in a big way.

The Aftermath

The high Brendan Hansen experienced at the Olympic Trials was replaced by frustration at the next month’s Olympic Games in Athens. Although Hansen helped the United States to gold in the 400 medley relay, he earned silver in the 100 breaststroke and bronze in the 200 breaststroke. Both events were won by Japan’s Kosuke Kitajima, and Hansen was unable to replicate his performances from Trials.

Kosuke Kitajima

Kosuke Kitajima. Photo Courtesy: Peter H.Bick

The silver medal in the 100 breaststroke was the more-difficult finish to accept. As Kitajima prevailed, 1:00.08 to 1:00.25, video footage of the race showed Kitajima employ an illegal dolphin kick off the start and finish. The maneuver was illegal at the time, but no official cited the violation, and given the margin between the athletes, the dolphin kicks likely were the difference between silver and gold for Hansen.

Hansen took the high road following the final, noting that he was unable to match his mark from Trials, which would have been enough for the title. However, veterans Aaron Peirsol and Jason Lezak stood up for the teammate, calling out Kitajima for his violation. It was Peirsol, a fellow Texan Longhorn, who was most vocal.

“He knew what he was doing,” Peirsol said of Kitajima. “It was cheating. Something needs to be done about that. It’s just ridiculous. You take a huge dolphin kick and that gives you extra momentum, but he knows that you can’t see that from underwater. He’s got a history of that. Pay attention to it.”

Kitajima added gold in the 200 breaststroke a few days later and replicated his breaststroke sweep in Athens in 2008 in Beijing. As a four-time Olympic champion and based on his versatility, Kitajima is widely viewed as the finest breaststroker in history. As far as using a forbidden kick to fuel his first win in Athens, Kitajima denied any wrongdoing.

“There’s nothing about the race I actually remember,” Kitajima said, when asked to discuss the final of the 100 breaststroke. “I got in and did the best I could. I just remember when I finished and I won, I was as happy as I’ve ever been. A lot of people will now start to pay attention more than before. When I heard the comments by Peirsol, I was really surprised because I always try to have fair competition. I’m always trying my best within the regulations. I have never, ever been cautioned by the official judges.”

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