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.
“2008 was not lot of fun. I’m having a lot of fun right now,” Hansen said. “I’m back.”
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 easily win the 100 butterfly.
“I’m so relieved,” Vollmer said. “It was such an exciting race. I’m really overwhelmed right now.”
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 Wednesday night’s final, which figures to be another classic between the world’s two greatest swimmers.
“Oh, that was the semifinals. It doesn’t really matter,” Lochte said. “It doesn’t matter until the finals. We’re great racers, we just want to win. We definitely kicked it in gear the last 50, me and him. We know tomorrow night is going to be a lot faster.”
Said Phelps: “It’s going to be a tough race.”
Lochte also has a strong morning swim in the 100 backstroke during the preliminaries, 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.
The 30-year-old 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.
Shanteau was fourth at the turn, but he turned on the speed heading for the wall and got second in 1 minute, 0.15 seconds.
“I’ve been back and forth with that event for so long,” said Shanteau, whose stronger race is the 200 breast. “It’s nice having it all come together when it counts the most. I’m a 200 guy, so sometimes I don’t know what I’m doing in the 100.”
Vollmer was more than a half-second under the world-record pace at the turn, but she faded on the return lap. Not to worry. She had built such a commanding lead that she was a full body length ahead when she touched in 56.50.
Claire Donahue claimed the second spot for London in 57.57. Natalie Coughlin missed on her first attempt to make her third Olympic team, fading to seventh in the eight-woman race (58.66).
Vollmer won a relay gold at the 2004 Athens Games after making the team as a 16-year-old. Several injuries and food allergies derailed her bid at the 2008 trials, making her question whether it was worth carrying on with her career. She’s sure glad she stuck with it.
“As I walked in, I saw the pool was the same and I was nervous,” Vollmer said. “It’s nice to put that behind me.”
Also claiming a spot on the Olympic team was Allison Schmitt, who got off to a huge lead in the 400 free right from the blocks and held on to win in 4:02.84. Chloe Sutton earned the second spot in 4:04.18.
“I’ve had a great year of training and I’m excited to see where I am with my swims,” said Schmitt, who trains with Phelps team in Baltimore.
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. Teenagers claimed the next three fastest times, as well: 18-year-old Rachel Bootsma, 17-year-old Olivia Smoliga, and 18-year-old Elizabeth Pelton.
“I love where I’m at right now,” said Franklin, the breakout star at last year’s world championships and one of the top American hopes for London. “I feel strong, I feel powerful. It’s so awesome to feel this way and I’m having a blast. This is what I came here to do.”
Coughlin, who won gold in the 100 back at the past two Olympics, had a rough night. After coming up short in the 100 fly, she barely qualified for the final of her signature event with the seventh-fastest time (1:00.63). She’s looking to get to London so she can take a shot at Jenny Thompson’s record for most decorated American female swimmer, having won 11 medals at the past two Olympics.
“I was hoping to have a better 100 fly than I did, but you pay for it when you go out too hard like I did,” Coughlin said. “After that, I just refocused on the 100 backstroke, knowing all that matters is I get a lane for tomorrow night. We’ll see what happens. That’s all I can do right now.”
In the night’s other races, Grevers stamped himself as a favorite in the 100 back with the top semifinal time (53.10). Olympic gold medalist Rebecca Soni used a huge finishing kick to lead the semifinals of the 100 breast (1:05.88), more than a second ahead of world-record holder Jessica Hardy (1:06.88).
“I always hold on to that last few yards as my strength,” Soni said. “I’m always waiting to kick it into gear. I don’t want to do it too early, but it felt good coming home, and I’m looking forward to having that same speed closing tomorrow.”