DALLAS -- At a time when comebacks appear to be all the rage in swimming and the likes of Janet Evans and Brendan Hansen have returned to the pool in the hopes of returning to Olympic glory, there's one man who has decided to stay home. And there's nothing Hansen or anyone else can do about it.
Five-time Olympic gold medalist Aaron Peirsol, widely considered one of the greatest American backstrokers, retired after the 2010 Pan-Pacific Championships in Irvine, Calif. Last year, when the 30-year-old Hansen, a two-time Olympian, decided to return to competition, he called the 28-year-old Peirsol and begged him to come along for the ride. The answer was no.
"I tried," Hansen said Monday at the U.S. Olympic Media Summit. "I told him, 'I've been doing breaststroke off of you in medley relays for the last 10 years. I'd reaaaaaaaaaally like to do it one more time.' But he felt really comfortable with how he left the sport. To say, 'Hey dude, let's go win some medals,' it wasn't a great fit."
If there's anyone who understood, it was Hansen. He left the sport burnt out after Beijing in 2008, convinced he would not swim competitively again. But he rediscovered his passion for the sport by racing in triathlons and last year was convinced by coach Eddie Reese to return to the pool. He's one of the favorites to make the U.S. team in the 100-meter and 200 breaststroke. If he does make the team, Hansen said it will be different without Peirsol there.
"I don't want to say anything about the backstrokers now, but he's a big part of the team," Hansen said. "He'll be missed, but I understand why he left. The sport of swimming is tough on people."
Hansen said he has leaned on two other swimmers in the midst of comebacks, 45-year-old Dara Torres and 36-year-old Jason Lezak, for advice on how to go about competing after the age of 30. It was Torres who insisted the key is being proactive with medical issues and not waiting until a problem arises.
"She told me, 'Don't be like, my shoulder hurts and now I need to go see the doctor,'" Hansen said. "Be proactive. It's a lot more work and you need to take care of yourself, but it's worth it because I've been injury-free going into these Games."