Led bybreaststroker Brendan Hansen, a formidable U.S. team showed off its depth atthe Pan Pacific Championships
If everyone wouldcooperate, the trading of world records and international titles between U.S.breaststroker Brendan Hansen and his Japanese rival, Kosuke Kitajima, wouldmake a great story line going into the Beijing Olympics. One small problem:Hansen doesn't intend to let Kitajima, who bested him in both the 100- and200-meter breaststrokes in Athens, beat him again. "I don't know how muchof a rivalry it's going to be," Hansen said between sessions of torchingKitajima and all other comers in the breaststroke events at the Pan PacificChampionships in Victoria, B.C., last week, "because I don't plan onletting him get anywhere close to me again."
Though Hansen'sprerace jitters caused him to rush his stroke in the 100, he won the gold lastFriday in 59.90, .49 of a second ahead of Brenton Rickard of Australia, onesecond ahead of Kitajima and .77 off one of the two world records he set at thenationals in Irvine, Calif., three weeks ago. On Sunday, Hansen topped hisrecord-setting time in the 200, winning in 2:08.50, .24 of a second under hisprevious best and 2.37 seconds ahead of Kitajima. "I did it right, andeverything clicked," Hansen said. "At the 150 I was like, See ya, I'mgone."
Hansen's decisivewins were just two of a number of notable swims by a deep U.S. squad, which setfour other world records in Victoria. Michael Phelps broke his ownthree-year-old marks in the 200 butterfly (1:53.80) and the 200 individualmedley (1:55.84). Aaron Peirsol broke his own record in the 200 backstroke in1:54.44, a particularly impressive feat given that two months ago he strainedhis right shoulder in a friendly arm-wrestling match and couldn't train withboth arms for a month. The men's 4√ó100-freestyle relay team of Phelps, NeilWalker, Cullen Jones and Jason Lezak swam a time of 3:12.46, returning to theU.S. a world record that had been held for the last six years by Australia andthen South Africa. Said Phelps, "It's going to take a lot for us to give itup."
Hansen, 25,shares that mentality. He traces the start of his rivalry with the 23-year-oldKitajima to the 2003 world championships in Barcelona, at which the latter setworld records in the 100 and 200 with Hansen in the lane next to him. Inspired,Hansen ratcheted up his training and broke both of Kitajima's records at the2004 U.S. Olympic Trials, becoming the first American to hold both breaststrokemarks since John Hencken in 1974. But Kitajima won the two events in Athens.His victory in the 100 was controversial; Peirsol, Hansen's former Universityof Texas teammate, protested that Kitajima had used a then illegal dolphin kickat the start, but the victory stood. "At the finish [Kitajima] let out anunbelievable scream," recalls Hansen. "I told myself, Just soak it in.I walked away from Athens with a huge chip on my shoulder."
At the worlds inMontreal last year, Hansen beat Kitajima in the 100 and won another gold in the200, an event for which Kitajima had failed to make the Japanese team. InVictoria it was all Hansen again. "I want to put up times that make otherguys say, There's no way I can compete with that," he says.
Aside from hugepaddles that move a lot of water--he is just 6 feet but has size 131/2 feet andhands that measure 11 inches from the base of his palm to the tip of his middlefinger--Hansen's biggest advantage over his competitors is his work ethic."His kick is not among the top 30," says his coach, Eddie Reese,"but if any of those 30 swimmers worked out with him for a month, they'd gointo retirement."
Unlike fellowU.S. world-record holders Peirsol, Phelps and Ian Crocker, who get pushed byeach other or other teammates, Hansen doesn't have much company at the top ofthe American breaststroke heap. Instead of working out with otherbreaststrokers in Austin, he tries to keep up with the backstrokers. "Idon't want to look back on anything and say, Could I have worked harder?"he says. "I see a lot of unused talent in this world, and I don't want tobe one of those people."
Nor does he wantto see talents go undiscovered. The Havertown, Pa., native recently took up theguitar and plans to take welding and photography classes at a community collegethis fall. "I really want to try photography," he says. "I've beento all these beautiful places, and I have nothing to show for it."
Nothing, that is,except a pile of medals, two world records and one vanquished rival.
BRENDAN HANSEN wasn't the only swimmer in Victoriaadding a chapter to a rivalry. At last summer's worlds, Jessicah Schipper(right) of Australia beat the world record held by Poland's Otylia Jedrzejczakin the 200 fly but was touched out at the wall by Jedrzejczak, who got the winand the record, though some camera angles appeared to show her touching withjust one hand. In Victoria, Schipper, 19, churned out the fastest final 50 inhistory (32.94) to finish in 2:05.40, .21 of a second better than the previousworld mark. "I definitely used [the worlds] as motivation," saysSchipper, who also won the 100 fly. "I think she will go a lot faster,"says her coach, Ken Wood. "When you've got the world record, you can't sitstill."