OMAHA, Neb. – Brendan Hansen was done with swimming after two doses of Olympic heartache. He’s feeling a lot better now.
Next stop: London.
Hansen, who retired from the sport after the Beijing Games but couldn’t stay away, made his comeback worthwhile by winning the 100-meter breaststroke at the U.S. Olympic trials Tuesday night.
He celebrated during the victory ceremony by kneeling down like a pro wrestler and giving the “hook ’em horns” sign – a nod to his Texas home and training base – as the podium slowly lifted him from beneath the pool deck into full view of more than 12,000 fans.
“No one would ever expect me to do something like that,” Hansen said. “I’m not a flashy guy.”
Eric Shanteau is heading back to the Olympics, too, and this time he doesn’t have to worry about battling cancer. He rallied to finish second to Hansen, pumping his fist when he saw his position, slapping hands with the winner, then running across the deck to kiss his wife.
Four years ago, Shanteau beat out Hansen for an individual spot on the team shortly after being diagnosed with testicular cancer. He put off treatment until after the games and has been healthy ever since.
Hansen wasn’t the only swimmer to use the second night of the trials as redemption for Olympic disappointment.
Dana Vollmer, a gold medalist as a teenager in 2004, missed out on the team four years ago while battling injuries and health problems. It’s all good now. She got off to a blistering start and soared through the water to win the 100 butterfly.
“I’m so relieved,” Vollmer said.
And, oh yeah, there was another memorable race between Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps, but there’s a bigger showdown to come. One night after Lochte beat Phelps in the 400 individual medley, Lochte edged him out again in the semifinals of the 200 freestyle. That’s just a tuneup for tonight’s final, which figures to be another classic between the world’s two greatest swimmers.
Lochte also had a strong morning swim in the 100 backstroke, posting the second-fastest time behind Matt Grevers. But the laid-back Floridian doesn’t want anything to take away from his next race with Phelps, so he dropped out of the back before the semifinals.
“That actually felt pretty good,” Lochte said. “I know I have a lot left, so we’ll see what happens.”
He said it was his choice to scratch the 100 back.
“I just want to get ready,” Lochte said. “I don’t want to have to worry about swimming” an extra race.
Hansen rallied over the final lap for a time of 59.68 seconds, giving him a chance to make up for the disappointment of the past two Olympics. He was one of the world’s top breaststrokers leading up to the past two games, but has yet to win an individual gold. He took silver and bronze in the two breaststroke races at Athens, and was shut out of an individual medal in Beijing.
Hansen, 30, is clearly looking forward to another shot at Japanese star Kosuke Kitajima, who swept the breast at the past two Olympics and is in Omaha for the trials, brought in so he could keep up his training under American coach Dave Salo.
“It’s cool that he got to see me swim,” Hansen said. “Somewhere deep down, he’s got to know I’m the only guy to beat him the last 10 years.”
Seventeen-year-old Missy Franklin was the top qualifier in the semifinals of the 100 backstroke, putting up a time (59.06) that was less than a second off Gemma Spofforth’s world record.