Monday, May 23, 2011

Hansen's Back!

Today, "American's Swim Team" breaths a sigh of relief. Brendan Hansen has come back to save our men's breaststroke. Hansen announced this weekend that he is coming back to swimming. Since his retirement following the 2008 Olympics, USA's men have floundered a bit internationally, with Mark Gangloff (8th) and Eric Shanteau (8th) finishing the year as the highest ranked men's breaststrokers. Both are the lowest rankings in any events except the 400 free.

Of course, when we last saw Hansen he was struggling himself. He went from breaking the WR in semi's at US Olympic trials to failing to make the team in the 200 and subsequently finishing out of the money in 4th. It was yet another example of what a cruel style the breaststroke is. Hansen's timing and rhythm seemed to leave him after that Omaha 100 breast semi.

Breaststroke has historically been a young man's stroke. Both Hansen and Ed Moses will be over 30 years old by this August, and no one besides Kosuke Kitajima has ever won an Olympic breaststroke title past the age of 25 in the modern era. Speaking of Kitajima; he is redefining all by himself what it means to have an international career swimming breaststroke. He has won two consecutive Olympic gold medals and showed no signs of letting up with the world's fastest time last summer. Prior Kitajima, world record breaststrokers seemed to age in dog years once they hit their mid 20s. Let's look at a couple of examples from the last 20 years:

Roman Sloudnov:
Age 20- Breaks WR in 100 breast 1:00.36
Age 21- First man under 1:00 at 59.94
Age 22- 1:00.65
Age 23- (Olympic year
Age 24- 1:01.29
Age 25- 1:01.56

And so on. Sloudnov only breaks his time from when he was 21 years old in a bodysuit. Hansen's teammate Ed Moses had a similar breakdown around the 2004 Olympic trials Here's another Russian:

Dmitri Komornikov
Age 22- Peaks with WR in 200 breast 2:09.52
Age 23- 2:12.02 (Olympic Year)
Age 24- 2:11.80
Age 25- 2:12.13
Age 26- 2:13.59
Age 27- 2:14.07

It's fair to point out that no one had ever see a female sprinter be as successful in her mid 30s, or late 30s, or early 40s before Dara Torres. We are in a new era of competitive swimming unlike even 10 years ago in terms of the longevity of swimmers careers.

In the linked above piece by John Lohn, Lohn makes an argument about Hansen's career that I strongly disagree with. I'll let John speak for himself:

"It can be argued that Hansen, a powerful technician during his heyday, was hurt more by the high-tech suit era than most other competitors. Before the suit craze hit, Hansen's biggest advantage over the competition was his technique. That edge was neutralized when the tech suits brought many other swimmers onto the same level"

Now, what this argument ignores is the actual results of the 2008 Olympics. Hansen lost at that meet to Kitajima, Alexander Dale Oen and Hugues Dubosq. Those three swimmers were ranked 1st, 2nd and 5th in the world for 2011, with nary a body suit to be seen. I'm fairly certain that Hansen was merely outswum in Beijing.

What then, does the future hold? I predict that Hansen will still be the fastest breaststroker in the US come Omaha but will be short of medaling in London. Of course, I'd love to be wrong.


  1. Didn't this happen like 3 months ago?

  2. Quick correction- Hansen only went the second fastest time in history (at that point) at the 08 trials. But clearly he lost something between semis and finals. The age range of top international breaststrokers has shifted significantly-many of the best Europeans, plus the Americans and Australians, are in their mid to late 20s. It's been years since a younger American has looked like a contender in the 100, and there is a big dropoff from Sprenger to the next Australian.