The allure of the Olympics is about the personal sacrifices, the irrational devotion of time and effort to win the Gold Medal, putting the rest of your life on hold, daring to achieve something that in most cases is absurdly unlikely.
The London Olympics will be full of these kinds of people. For me, the most compelling, the most irrational, the most crazy, and the most admirable of all athletes will be U.S. Olympic swimmer, Brendan Hansen.
A competitor in the 100 meter breaststroke this coming Saturday, Hansen is sort of a nut, in my view, yet so tough and likeable and refreshingly bent to win a Gold Medal, to get revenge. Consider this: In the 2004 Athens games he dedicated everything and pushed aside all other aspects of his life to win the Gold Medal. He finished second to Japan's Kosuke Kitajima. For those who saw the end to that race, it was chillingly sad and harsh. Kitajima screamed in victory just one lane away, a few feet, from the dejected Hansen. It was in your face Asian Style.
What did Hansen do? He set his alarm clock to the exact replay of that scream. He would wake up to it and train like a madman for the next four years to gain revenge and win that Gold in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Get back at that screamer. Listen to him scream at him every morning so he would remember the pain, the agony of losing, and swim even harder and faster every day, to beat his nemesis.
But it didn't work out that way. In Beijing the Asian screamer won Gold again and Hansen finished third. You had to feel for Hansen. A life put on hold to beat a guy that he didn't beat for the second time when it all mattered so much, with the world watching.
So what did Hansen do? He made a sane decision for once. He decided to retire from swimming. Makes sense to the rest of us. He tried his best and missed. The Japanese screamer was just faster. History would say Hansen was second or third best in those Games. Pretty good but not the best, which is all Hansen ever thought about and wanted.
But Hansen's not like so many others. After dabbling in some triathlons, he made another Hansen decision. He decided to make one more run at breaststroke Gold going after Kitojima again in these upcoming London Games.
"He knows I'm the only guy to have beaten him in any major competition in recent years," says Hansen. "That's got to be in his mind."
Love this guy. Trash talking. Getting inside the superstar's head. Trying anything to knock him off his game. At the U.S. Olympic trials when Hansen qualified in his event, Kitojima curiously was in the audience. Asked about this, Hansen said: "I don't know why he was there."
Maybe Kitojima is worried. I would be. He's going against a maniac of a person. Maybe this third race will be the charm for Hansen. If he wins Gold, there will not be a bigger and more inspirational story of grit and sacrifice. Give 'em Hell, Hansen, take the Gold, and scream right there in the pool as loud as you can so the whole world can hear you.