Wednesday, August 18, 2004
Hansen: I wasn't ready emotionally
By Steve Woodward
Special to ESPN.com
ATHENS -- As an outdoorsman who loves roaming rural Pennsylvania, Brendan Hansen surely knows the old line about the uninspired hound whose owner mutters, "That dog won't hunt."
The reference to a misguided canine came to mind in Athens on Wednesday night not because the streets of surrounding neighborhoods are populated by outcast pets down on their luck -- which is a reality of life here. It seemed relevant because Hansen, the world record setter in the 100- and 200-meter breaststroke at the July Olympic Trials in Long Beach, Calif., emerged from the pool at Olympic Park minus a new 200 breast world record, minus a gold medal, indeed, minus so much as a silver medal.
Before the first-time Olympian even reported to the medal award stand to receive his -- gulp -- bronze medal, he had uncharacteristically veered from his typical good guy demeanor to gently blame USA Swimming and the American media for his demise in the most important sports event in the world.
"It's tough because, six weeks ago, I went 2:09 flat (2:09.04)," Hansen said of his emergence at trials. "To come out here and go 2:10.8 (2:10.87), it's tough. That's because our country is so competitive when it comes to trials. I was so emotionally ready for the trials, and then six weeks later to have to bounce back for the Olympics is a tough thing for a swimmer."
And he added, "It's just so much pressure that you (media) guys put on us, it's tough for us to compete, and I really believe the pressure level in the Olympics, you know ... it's every four years that we get a chance to do something like this."
Woof, woof, young Brendan, the only legitimate part of that rant is that, yes, the Olympic Games come but once every four years.
That dog won't hunt. The trials are six weeks apart for every U.S. swimmer, and that's the way it is, even if it's severe, and even if the men's Olympic coach Eddie Reese acknowledged later that the timing of the trials is always a point of debate in the United States.
And to the other point, American Olympians who frequently lament that the public ignores them can't turn around and complain about too much media coverage. Toll takers and night watchmen rarely face press scrums or pressure, but what would they give for a couple of moments face to face on the pool deck with NBC's Melissa Stark?
It was not made immediately clear by Hansen's comments that, perhaps, the night simply belonged to a highly regarded Japanese swimmer, Kosuke Kitajima, who won the gold in the 200 breast and, three nights ago, won the gold in the 100 breast, an event in which he formerly owned the world record. Kitajima is fast becoming Japan's Michael Phelps. He is the first in his nation's history to win two swimming golds in one Games.
We are not here to beat up on Brendan, who just turned 23 the other day but couldn't avail himself of a proper birthday bash because Kitajima blew out his candles in the 100 breast in a time of 1:00.08, ahead of Hansen's 1:00.25.
Those times were so far off the Hansen world record from July 8 of 59.30 seconds that even Hansen's University of Texas swimming brother, Aaron Peirsol, another swell human being, dared to accuse Kitajima of cheating by secretly employing the evil "dolphin kick" underwater to avoid the eye of judges who are supposed to stop that kind of thing.
Peirsol went to so far as to say Hansen had been robbed. Ironically, Peirsol, who also competed in the trials a mere six weeks ago, set an Olympic record Wednesday night in advancing to the 200 backstroke final with a time of 1:55.14.
There are so many dogs that won't hunt in this scenario it doesn't look like anybody is getting dinner around here.
Naturally, we are left to assume that Kitajima will be accused of deploying the Great White Whale kick in Wednesday's 200 final when he won in 2:09.44, although it did not threaten Hansen's still fresh 2:09.04 world mark. A teen-aged Daniel Gyurta of Hungary was the silver medal winner in 2:10.80, followed by Hansen.
After he had decompressed a bit, Hansen reflected on the turn of events, which finds him a deposed favorite to win two gold medals. The subject arose again. Is six weeks not enough?
"It is a self-explanatory thing," Hansen said. "I broke both records six weeks ago and come here and don't win a race. It is not so much that about being physically ready as it is being emotionally ready.
"Let's be honest," Hansen said, as the attendant note takers leaned forward.
Ok, give it a shot.
"I was a good breaststroker going into trials, and coming out I am the best in the world," he said. And then he added, "The media puts all of these expectations on you. Well, not just the media -- family, friends, everybody."
At least we're all equally culpable.
What must also be said of Hansen is that these were not entirely mean spirited barbs. They clearly were just the ramblings of a young man who thought it might be coming, but didn't believe it until he saw the Japanese swimmer's feet out of the corner of his eye. It's not unlike the stammering of a teenager after crashing the family Buick. Did that just happen?
At least Hansen will always have Long Beach.
"When I hit that third wall in the trials (in the 200), I remember having a lot left," he said as the anger turned to disappointment. "Tonight, it was like I was looking up hill. And it was snowing. And I didn't have any shoes."
Nobody's dog hunts in those conditions.