No, really. And with four Olympic medals to his name—including one from his role in the relay that landed Michael Phelps his record eighth gold in Beijing—Brendan Hansen is raring to shred the 100-meter field this weekend in London. On his way to glory, the hard-working but good-humored US captain gave us advice on bow hunting, swimmer’s hair and the 6,000-calorie diet.
MADE MAN: You’ve come close in the past—is it safe to say the 100-meter breaststroke gold is yours this year?
BRENDAN HANSEN: I feel like I have a good shot. I think I have the experience and maturity it takes to bring it home. I am going to be fast at the games and do what needs to be done. I have been training years for these few minutes, and I am not going to slip.
MM: We hear you “temporarily misplaced” your medal from the last Olympics on a flight home. Were you sweating bullets?
BH: I am always organized and on top of stuff, and somehow I’m the guy who loses the medal. I was flying back to Austin and the TSA slipped my medal in the side pocket after the security check. During the flight, it slid out and rolled about four rows back. I was with my now-wife, and when I realized it was gone, I told the attendant, “Ma’am, I lost something really important on this plane and I need to find it.” She blurted, “Is it an engagement ring?” That was really insult to injury. It was returned several days later, so it’s all good.
I always put my hand in the water to see how cold it is. It calms me down and brings me back to reality. If I am at a small meet or the Olympics, it is still 50 meters of water. Let’s go, let’s do this.
MM: How early did your Olympic dreams begin?
BH: When I was 13 or 14, I would say I was an OK swimmer. At one of my swim meets, there was an Olympic swimmer doing an appearance, and I got his autograph and held his medal in my hand and remember thinking, “I want one of those.” But when I made it to the University of Texas, my coach Eddie Reese said to me: “If you want to be the best breaststroker in the world, you can do it. You have the talent.” That’s when I started taking it seriously.
MM: Any notable rituals before you hit the pool?
BH: It’s kind of a joke I have with myself. I always put my hand in the water to see how cold it is, and it became a thing. It calms me down and brings me back to reality. If I am at a small meet or the Olympics, it is still 50 meters of water. Let’s go, let’s do this.
MM: Rumor has it you’re quite the outdoorsman. What’s your favorite way to get in touch with Mother Nature?
BH: I love it all. It’s my escape from the black line in the pool. When I was younger, the time I got to spend with my dad was hunting and fishing on the weekends, so it has always been comforting to me. Bow hunting is probably my favorite because of the challenge. You have to get up close and seize the split-second window to take the animal. It parallels with swimming, training nine months to swim 50 seconds and take a medal.
MM: Any tips for fellow hunters?
BH: Accept that you can never know it all. When you admit there is always more to learn, you will never plateau. Every time I go into the woods I learn something new. Because of this mentality, at 30, I am the best I have ever been.
MM: People keep telling us to visit Austin. What’s so great about it?
BH: It’s so laid-back, no one cares who you are, and you can live your life. It’s also very active. During training, I wouldn’t want to get out of bed, but I would see 50 people running at 5:30 in the morning on my drive. I think, if these people are doing this just to be healthy, you can do it for the Olympics. The people here motivate me to keep things in perspective.
MM: Is a six-thousand-calorie-a-day diet as fun as it sounds?
BH: It’s awesome. I can eat at a different local Austin place every night. I have lived here 12 years and I am still getting to try new things. I pretty much eat what I want, without going overboard. Someone once told me, “Treat your body like a two-hundred-thousand-dollar sports car—don’t put the cheapest gas in it.” That has really stuck with me.
MM: How do you handle the beating on you hair and skin from being in the pool so much? Any advice?
BH: It’s funny, I just got my hair cut and asked my stylist, “Wow, what did you do? It is so soft!” She just laughed and said, “I cut all the chlorine hair out.” I have tried everything, and it is just not happening. Caps cut the damage down a little, but it is just something you deal with as a swimmer. I also use tons of lotion. Being in the water so much does some serious damage to your skin.
MM: Last but not least, does being a “breaststroke specialist” improve your game with the ladies?
BH: It’s an ongoing joke. When that conversation comes up, everyone’s mind goes straight to the gutter. When I was in the dating world, I always used that kind of humor. I figure there are enough idiots out there to make me look better. Usually when you meet a swimmer, you meet a well-rounded guy who is just chasing down the American dream.
UPDATE: Swimming from Lane 8 Sunday, Hansen surprised most of the field and captured a bronze medal. About a week later, he swam the breaststroke leg of Michael Phelps’ final race, the 4×100 medley relay. Yes, they won gold.