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London Olympics: Chewing the fat with swimmer Brendan Hansen’s wife

LONDON — Brendan Hansen is a U.S. Olympic swimmer not named Michael Phelps, Ryan Lochte or Missy Franklin. That means we don’t have to think of him as superhuman or worry about an inflated ego.

But then, if you’d met Martha Hansen, Brendan’s wife, you’d pretty much dismiss the inflated ego possibility.

By necessity, swimmers have bodies that are useful, beyond propelling their ripples through the ripples, as models for statues. Hansen’s is right there.

So, Mrs. Hansen, wife of the sculpted one, mother of their child due in early January, what happens if the ripples start to roll? Even Adonis ate a Big Mac sometimes.

“I’ll just leave him,” Martha says.

And so we are off, getting a different view of one of our lesser-known Olympians, who could stand on the medal podium after Sunday night’s 100-meter breaststroke final. This story will skip over the split times and descriptions of the new Speedo FS3 elite goggles and get right to the meat of the matter.

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“I’ve never known him to be out of shape or have an ounce of fat,” Martha says.

There is a reason for that. Hansen seldom stops training, seldom stops moving. Martha’s prime example occurred after he returned from Beijing, where he won two relay gold medals.

“One of the first nights, he was having trouble sleeping — usual jet lag,” Martha says. “About 4 in the morning, he can’t sleep, so he gets up and goes out running. I just told him, ‘Come on, just close your eyes.’”

Martha and Brendan met at the University of Texas, where she was a collegiate swimmer and he never lost a breaststroke race as a Longhorn. The Olympics and their world-class existence were never in her ability range, she says. She teaches sixth-grade math in Austin, is preparing to be a mom, and both enjoys and supports Brendan’s most recent foray into Olympic swimming.

He will be 31 on Aug. 15, so any individual gold medal here will be a rarity in swimming at his age. But as Martha sees it, even these London Games may not be the end, even though her husband has said they are.

Part of that judgment is based on her obvious knowledge of how he is — “not a 9-to-5, coat-and-tie guy.”

When he left Beijing, Hansen was drowning in a dislike for his sport. He was quoted as saying, “I want to get as far away from the pool as possible.”

Part of that was a still-empty feeling from Athens in 2004, when he was among the favorites in both the 100 and 200 breaststroke and came away with a silver and bronze. In the controversial 100 race, many of Hansen’s teammates felt that the winner, and one-time Olympic record-holder,Japan’sKosuke Kitajima, used an illegal kick. If it was, it wasn’t called, and Hansen got the silver.

That, and the usual swimmer’s midlife crisis of pondering what it all means after 200,000 flip turns, had Hansen taking a day job back in Austin. He was, after all, heading for age 30. But Martha laughs when she recalls what he did to slow down and ease out of the physical intensity after Beijing.

He took up triathlon racing. That’s where you start with a long swim and follow with a longer bike ride and a long foot race. That’s like a retired weightlifter loading boulders on trucks.

“He’d win the swim,” she says, “but then they’d start to catch him in the biking and pass him in the running. You could always see him coming because his shoulders were so wide, and the others were trim and narrow, so he’d block them out with his big shoulders.

“He’s a breaststroker. His feet go out the wrong way. He can’t be much of a runner.”

Quickly, Martha figured out that Brendan was about as ready to quit as Roger Federer.

He went off to help his brother run a swimming camp, then started talking to his old swim coach.

“He said we needed to have a conversation soon,” she said.

And here they are in London, with an approach that stresses effort and fun, not “life-and-death medals.”

“I’m happy if he is happy, and he is,” Martha says.

She also says there is room for more medals in Brendan’s gun case at home, where the two golds, a silver and a bronze are kept now.

Guns?

“Guns don’t bother me,” she says. “I’m from Texas.”

bill.dwyre@latimes.com


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