After more than nine weeks of travel, training and competition all over Europe, speedskater Brian Hansen is back home in Glenview, Ill., with a chance to finally take stock of his accomplishments.
It was an exhausting journey that included team training in Italy, the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi and world cup events in Germany and the Netherlands.
Like the rest of the U.S. team, Hansen came away disappointed from the Sochi Games, where Team USA was shut out of the long track speedskating medals for the first time since 1984.
But Hansen, 23, quickly rebounded afterward with the best performance of his world cup career that put an exclamation point on his best overall season.
At Inzell, Germany, in early March — in the first post-Olympic world cup — Hansen skated to a bronze medal in the 1,000-meter, then topped that the next day by winning the 1,500-meter and setting a track record.
It was the first 1,500-meter victory for Hansen on the world cup circuit, and a long-awaited trip to the top of the podium. He’d skated well in the past but always had just missed out. Last season, Hansen finished third three times in the 1,500-meter. This season, he took silver at Salt Lake City in November.
But at Inzell, skating against a strong field that included all three medal winners in the event from Sochi, Hansen easily won, posting a time of 1:44.58, ahead of Canada’s Denny Morrison (1:45.28) and the Netherlands’ Koen Verweij. Morrison had won bronze at Sochi, with Verweij taking silver. Zbigniew Brodka of Poland, the Olympic gold medalist, was fifth and American standout Shani Davis fourth.
“It’s always been only a tenth or two (of a second) away, and then finally I was able to really put it together,” Hansen said. “Everything just came together.”
Going into the race, Hansen wasn’t quite sure what to expect.
“I was trying to get myself back into racing mode after the Olympics,” he said. “But yeah, it was probably the best race of my life, I think, just given how much I won by and how (good) the rest of the field was.”
Hansen, who had won a silver medal at the Vancouver Winter Games in team pursuit, finished seventh at Sochi in the 1,500-meter and ninth in the 1,000-meter. To get back on the ice so soon after Russia and nail a victory by a large margin while setting a track record was gratifying.
“It definitely felt really good, I just felt like I wish I could have put that together three weeks (before),” he said, laughing. “But I’d rather have that than not have that race at all. I’m definitely pleased. What do they say? Better late than never.”
The following week, Hansen closed out his world cup season at Heerenveen in the Netherlands by finishing seventh in the 1,500 and eighth in the 1,000, but that didn’t spoil his best world cup season. He had three bronze medals in the 1,000-meter, a gold and silver in the 1,500 and two silvers in team pursuit. Until the final world cup stop, Hansen had finished on the podium of every event he’d entered this season except a mass-start race at Inzell.
He finished sixth in the ISU World Cup standings in the 1,000-meter and fifth in the 1,500. And it’s possible he could have been even higher if he hadn’t bypassed two world cups because they didn’t fit with his preparations for the Winter Games.
“I think all in all it was a pretty good season,” said Hansen.
Hansen came to long track speedskating after starting out as a hockey player in Illinois, and then taking up short track skating.
After a strong junior career he made the U.S. Olympic Team in 2010, won his first world cup medal in 2011, his first world cup gold medal in 2013 in the 1,000-meter and also won a U.S. championship in the 1,500-meter in 2013. Along the way, he came to be a friend, teammate and competitor of another speedskater from Illinois, Davis, the four-time Olympic medalist.
These days, they go head-to-head in the 1,000 and 1,500 — and also kill time playing cards.
Since Sochi, both probably have spent a lot of time wondering what happened in the Winter Games for a U.S. team that seemed primed for big success. Hansen certainly has thought about it, but doesn’t really have any answers.
“It’s a little bit of a mystery,” he said. He’s hoping that with time and more examination, the U.S. program will find some answers. “I don’t know if I want to say one thing or another until there’s some hardcore facts to support (it).”
Hansen plans to work toward the next Winter Games in South Korea in 2018, but he’s not certain of his short-term plans.
After taking some time to wind down and take some short trips over the next few weeks, he’ll start investigating colleges at which to resume his studies and work on the start-up business he has with his brother, (called Bottlebark) in which they sell sleeves for water bottles to create foam rollers, which can be used in athletic training and warm-ups.
Now, with the 2013-14 season over, he’s pleased he’s logged some success and that he’s shown he has a much higher ceiling he can reach.
Said Hansen: “There’s still room for improvement, and in the 1,500 I think at the end of the season I was kind of showing some potential for what I can do in the future.”
Doug Williams covered three Olympic Games for two Southern California newspapers and was the Olympic editor for the San Diego Union-Tribune. He has written for TeamUSA.org since 2011 as a freelance contributor on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.