COLUMBIA — Since joining the U.S. National A-Team in 2001, Brendan Hansen has collected an impressive array of accolades: three Olympic gold medals, eight national championshipsadmd three world records.
But when he swims in the Missouri Grand Prix this weekend, the 26 year old will be using one race from his past as motivation to get back to the Olympics.
At the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece, Hansen was touched out by Kosuke Kitajima of Japan in the finals of the 100-meter breaststroke, finishing second by .17 seconds. He said that race against his “biggest competitor” has stayed in the back of his mind and has proved to be a motivational tool in his training since then.
“I’ve beat him every single time since then, but that doesn’t matter,” Hansen said. “It’s still the Olympics. You turn it around and make it a positive, and compete better and harder and faster. You use it to go back to the Olympics and be more prepared and make sure that it never happens again.”
Since that race, Hansen has taken nothing for granted, including his spot on the U.S. National Team.
“As of right now, I’m not on the team,” Hansen said. “It’s still a stressful situation. Your mind-set has to be that nothing’s going to get in the way.”
Hansen has been training for the Olympic trials with the Longhorn Aquatics club in Austin, Texas, since September and said the Missouri Grand Prix is a chance to get in racing shape.
“We look at these meets as a chance to get away from our vigorous training,” Hansen said. “We get to dust the cobwebs off and see how well we match up with people.”
Hansen will swim in the preliminaries of the 100-meter freestyle and the 200-backstroke today. He competes in the preliminaries of the 200-breaststroke Saturday and the 100-breaststroke Sunday. The Grand Prix marks the first long-course meet — the same format as the Olympic trials and the Olympics — that Hansen has competed in since the U.S. National Championships in August.
“Everything from now until the trials is definitely a tune-up,” he said. “We’re trying to prepare ourselves for the big show at the Olympics this summer.”
Hansen said the Grand Prix is a particularly attractive meet because of the competitive field of athletes and its format mimics the Olympics. Preliminaries will be held in the evening, with finals of the same events being held the following morning.
“This meet in particular I’m really looking forward to,” Hansen said. “This is the first meet I’ve had the chance to swim like that. All that national and international experience will go aside here, and we’ll see what it’s like to get up in the morning and race.”
Hansen is the first American to hold both the 100-meter and 200-meter breaststroke world records since John Hencken in 1974. He also swam on the U.S. 400-meter medley relay team that broke the world record at the 2004 Olympics.
For now, though, Hansen is just concentrating on the Grand Prix, a meet in which he finished second in the 200-meter breast finals and led the 100-meter breast preliminaries in 2007. Hansen was forced to miss the 100-meter finals because of a flight conflict.
“It was a lot of fun, and that’s one of the main reasons we came back,” he said. “It’s top-notch competition and a great pool to swim in and a great atmosphere. We’re going to stay the whole time and get the most out of the meet we can.
“People who normally wouldn’t show up for these events will be showing up and preparing themselves in an Olympic year. It’s a pretty strong group of swimmers, and they make the event that much better. In the end, I want to walk away with a gameplan for where I am and where I want to go in the next six months.”