As Olympic fervor builds, long-track skater Brian Hansen continues training exclusively at the Pettit Center in West Allis, preferring the familiar.
While the 23-year-old stretches in the empty weight room, he says he realized long ago that he’d be alone with the sport he loved. "My dad used to tell us that Dan Jansen was the best speed skater in the world. I thought that he was like Michael Jordan and so I’d ask the kids when I was little, if they knew who Dan Jansen was and they’d say no, and I’d say, he’s the fastest speed skater in the world.”
Ever since, Hansen has been working - at the Pettit Center, to become the fastest. At first, he commuted from his home in Illinois to the Olympic-size oval. “As I got older and went to high school and became more involved in long-track, we started driving up here a couple times a week and it’s always been so successful that I decided to stay here and not move out to Salt Lake City,” where many of America's winter Olympic athletes train.
Hansen has also kept the same coach, Nancy Swider-Peltz Sr., for his entire career, and that is not the norm, especially at the elite level. "We worked well together as a team and she’s been my coach for so long and it’s always been so successful that when you find something that works and you like it, I kind of just stuck with it,” Hansen says.
Swider-Peltz says she's encountered criticism over the arrangement, with one Olympian remarking to her, "when are you going to let your skaters move on to a real coach,” she says. Swider-Peltz has been to the Olympics as an athlete and as a coach, with Hansen in 2010, when he won silver in team pursuit. She says spectators won’t see many long-trackers with female coaches – or even the same coach as last time. "In the world's opinion, people tire of things, I want to try something else. But, in my opinion it’s, are you producing results," Swider-Peltz says.
Hansen is now among the best in both the 1,000 and 1500-meters and has qualified in them along with the 500 meters, heading to Sochi. He’s confident the familiar, along with his spartan routine of eat, train, sleep will work for him.
Hansen says he hopes people appreciate what it takes to be tops in his sport. “There’s no bells and whistles to the sport or things that make it interesting, but in so many ways, that’s the beauty of it. It’s just about who’s the strongest - there’s no other crazy element to it, it’s just, who can skate the fastest.”