Brendan Hansen had a plan for how his U.S. Olympic swimming trails would work out. He figured in the preliminaries he would break the 1-minute 1-second mark in the 100-meter breaststroke. Then, in Thursday evening's final, he would set the American record.
But when Hansen reached to touch the wall at Long Beach Aquatic Center and then pivoted his head back to glance at the scoreboard, he wouldn't have guessed what he would see when he blinked the water away. The crowd of 8,408 thundered its approval, and there it was -- not just the U.S. record, but a blistering world mark of 59.3 seconds that put the 22-year-old Pennsylvanian on the Olympic team in stunning style, stealing the spotlight from more renowned swimmers such as Michael Phelps, Natalie Coughlin and Jenny Thompson on the second day of the trials.
"Every little thing just clicked right," Hansen said, "and it all worked out."
Worked out? The old world record -- set last year by Japan's Kosuke Kitajima -- was .48 of a second slower than Hansen's swim Thursday. In swimming time, that would be like shaving 10 minutes off the marathon mark. He beat runner-up Mark Gangloff by 1.57 seconds, a virtual eternity.
The performance had roots that are four years old. In 2000, at the Olympic trials in Indianapolis, Hansen finished third in both the 100-meter and 200-meter breaststroke. Typically, the top two finishers qualify for the Olympics. Hansen remembered sitting in an auxiliary pool, crushed.
"I really don't want to go back there," Hansen said Thursday, "but probably the best way to think about it is somebody running over your dog."
As painful as it was to revisit those memories, Hansen couldn't escape them at these trials. All day, he said, he had flashbacks, to that time, to that place, to that pain. So he tried to spin it forward.
"I just knew it was my time, my place," he said.
In Wednesday's semifinals, he swam 1:00.13, passing that first goal -- and setting the American record in the process. So what was left? U.S. coach Eddie Reese said he figured 59.9 seconds, or even 59.8, was within Hansen's grasp.
"If someone had said 59.3," Reese said, "I'd have bet my house on it that he wouldn't have been able to do that."
The emotional story of the day -- and perhaps of these trials -- belongs to Thompson, who finished second in the women's 100-meter butterfly, an accomplishment that likely will propel her to her fourth Olympics, though only the winner is guaranteed a spot.
Thompson has plenty of other things to think of while she's here. She is 31, in medical school at Columbia, and could have retired with her 26 national championships and 10 Olympic medals -- eight of them gold -- with her accomplishments already making her the most decorated female athlete in U.S. Olympic history. But she wants, desperately, to win an individual gold, the only missing item on her checklist.
The 100 butterfly, in which she won the world championship last year, figured to be a great chance. But Thompson said she has been feeling better swimming the freestyle than the butterfly lately, and though she hit the midway point in the lead, she was caught in the final 25 meters by 27-year-old Rachel Komisarz, who won in 58.77 seconds, a tick ahead of Thompson's 58.90.
The cheers, though, were clearly for Thompson. Her mother, Margrid, died in February of cancer at 66. This is her first major meet without her mother in the stands -- at least not in person, Thompson said.
"This sounds really corny, but I had a dream [Wednesday] night, and my mom was in it," she said. "She was really beautiful and happy, and she was at the ocean, and it just really gave me a good feeling going into the day."
One reason Thompson was the favorite in the butterfly was because of the absence of the trials' presumed female star, Coughlin. Talented enough to contend for medals in almost any event she enters, Coughlin and her coach, Teri McKeever, were forced to make difficult decisions about what events to enter at the trials. The butterfly lost out, though the pair surprisingly included the 50-meter freestyle -- the trials' last event for women, which won't be held until Wednesday.
"We feel it's better to swim things you can be successful at," McKeever said.
The most prominent of those for Coughlin is the 100-meter backstroke, an event in which she is the only woman to break one minute. And it was that event that Coughlin first entered the pool at the trials. She swam the fastest time of the day in the morning preliminaries -- 1:00.71 -- and though she was two-tenths of a second slower in the evening semifinals, she was still fastest. Friday night, she will try to, once and for all, put behind her the disappointment of failing to make the Olympic team in 2000.
Kaitlin Sandeno was one of those who did make the team in 2000, winning the bronze medal in the 800-meter freestyle. In winning the 400-meter freestyle Thursday night, she showed she could be a threat for medals again in Athens, for the 400 isn't her strongest event.
"I didn't think I'd do this," she said.
Sandeno's performance, though, was hardly as shocking as Hansen's. When he fully drank in the crowd's reaction, he put his hands in the air, making a motion as if he was questioning what had happened. He shook his head. He slapped the water. He swam slowly over to a lane divider, sat on it, putting his head in his hands. He had done it.
"I just think that after 2000, I was a man on a mission," he said. "That emotion and visions I had in my head from 2000 were in my head the last four years."
Jenny Thompson surges to second-place finish in 100-meter butterfly. Thompson, 31, is not guaranteed a place on Olympic team yet.