Q&A with Brian Hansen
How influential were your parents in your athletic career and in what ways?
They drove me after high school an hour and a half up to Milwaukee almost every day for speed skating. They would have a meal ready for me in the car, and I can't thank them enough for that. They have helped me in countless other ways, too.
Do you have another full-time job or business?
I work part-time licensing various products. A few years ago I sublicensed a fitness product (a foam roller water bottle) to a company out in California called "SKLZ."
In your hometown, what are your favorite spots to relax, eat out, etc.?
In Milwaukee, I surf on Lake Michigan in the winter, even when it is below 30 degrees out. I also have snorkeled the ship wrecks off the coast. I bike all over southeastern Wisconsin including all of Kettle Moraine Scenic Drive (110 mile stretch). I go to outdoor movies at various parks in the summertime including Veterans Park. I enjoy eating out at Jose's Blue Sombrero.
What’s your typical training day/schedule?
Many of my days start at Froedtert Sports Medicine Center (one of US Speed Skating's sponsors). I start by foam rolling for half an hour, then work with my strength coach Duane and lift weights, then I have physical therapy with Julie Carpenter. Then I have bike sprints with one of the interns there who is also a speed skater (Olu Sijuwade) or I do an outdoor bike with local group rides or on my own.
How do you work to achieve your daily goals?
I try to keep it fun. I use apps like Strava and I try to get outside as much as possible. I also always look forward to a recovery shake afterwards, sounds weird but it helps.
What is your favorite workout or fitness trend?
My favorite workout is doing a long bike ride where I explore somewhere new. Ideally it ends in a jump in a lake or pool.
What’s the most grueling work out you’ve ever done?
The hardest workouts are when I show up to the Pettit National Ice Center and it's early in the morning, maybe 8:30 a.m., and it's zero degrees outside and the wind is howling. Then I go inside the Pettit and I'm cold, but it's also freezing cold in the rink and all we have to wear is our thin skin suit. Then there is no music on and no one is at the rink except for me and my two training partners and coach. On days like these we often have to do the hardest workout of the week, which is usually short rest intervals. It's an hour and half long workout with three set rests. We typically end the sets hot and sweaty but then get cooled down during our rest. These are the most grueling workouts of the week.
What would people be surprised to learn about training for the Olympics?
A lot of what we do we make up ourselves. Often times people think that we are subject to a very special and particular training program. And a lot of thought and expertise does go into our training programs, but ultimately doing it and deciding which route to take is up to us in individual sports.
Is there anything you do for training that’s out of the ordinary or experimental?
Yes, a lot of what I do is experimental. I have made up many workouts in an effort to avoid knee pain and lower back pain. These mostly include hybrid workouts that combine off-ice dry land and cycling.
Have you ever been seriously injured? What did it take for you to come back from that injury?
Yes, I have lower back issues as a skater. It has gotten to the point where sometimes I can barely make it to the rink 20 minutes away because it hurts so bad while I am driving. Dealing with this type of injury is hard and takes a lot of patience and creativity to work around it. I have had the help of many great physical therapists including Froedtert Sports Medicine Center. But I also have many tricks including raising the handlebars on my bike 4" higher than a typical road bike, core programs, not skating longer than 3' at a time, and using bungee bands for weights instead of actual weights.
What is your earliest memory of doing or seeing skating?
I remember watching an older skater at Northbrook Speed Skating club. I couldn't believe how few strokes he took to get around the rink. Dedicating my life to it came slowly but growing up in such a 'hotbed' for the sport was key to me sticking with it.
What's your earliest or favorite memory of watching the Olympics?
My earliest memory of watching the Olympic may be when I was 11 and Apollo crashed and cut his leg and came across the line finishing second. I did not imagine that I would be on the same Olympic team as him 8 years later.
Was there a specific “breakthough” moment/competition when you finally realized you could compete in your sport at a high enough level to reach the Olympics?
I remember the first time I raced Shani Davis. It was in the 500 meters for a weekend time trial. It was one of my first races that year. I was 17 and Shani was 25. I had never come close to a time before that race that was comparable to Shani but I beat him down the first 100 meters. I was so excited, I was just scrambling the rest of the race and he beat me but not by much. He was not nearly as serious about the weekend time trial as I was then, but that was a very exciting race for me.
What's something cool, weird intense about your sport that people don't normally see? What’s the hardest part of your sport?
People don't realize how big of a sport speed skating is in the Netherlands. It is shown on TV and is considered a main stream sport there. The hardest part of our sport is that we have to compete against these people that there are major celebrities and on pro teams from the Netherlands, and we have to motivate ourselves to beat them. Also, our sport is only "glamourized" once every four years so it makes it much more difficult to motivate for World Cups and world championships the way they do. As American we have to shift our focus mainly to the Olympics, making the sport feel much more pressuring as our true shot at success only comes once every four years.
Who is your coach? How long have you been working together and what’s your relationship like?
Nancy Swider-Peltz. We have been working together since I was 10 years old. I train with her son and daughter. Many people think she is my mom but she's not. I've just known her forever and the coaching relationship has been great and we are very successful together. When I was little, she would coach me on free skate sessions at a local hockey rink in between our houses. We would mainly work on slow monotonous technical drills. This is why she thinks that today my skating is so technically sound.
Who do you socialize with most within your sport or any sport?
I train with a skater from Taiwan, Darren Huang. We went surfing together many times last year on Lake Michigan. He is trying to be one of the first people to make the Winter Olympics from Taiwan. He just missed the team in 2010 but I really think he can do it this year. I also socialize with my coach's son Jeff. We do a lot of our biking together. The three of us live in the same house about 4 blocks form the Pettit National Ice Center.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
My dad likes to emphasize how there are always 100 ways to success. It puts a lot less pressure on skating and training.
What's a big obstacle that you've overcome in your life?
Trying to define what skating means to me. I think I'm still overcoming this obstacle...
What is your biggest fear when competing?
Making a last minute mistake that costs me the race.
Who is your Olympic role model?
Probably Bob De Jong. He has continued to be on top of the sport in one of the most difficult events.
Within your sport, who has been your greatest influence and why?
Probably training with my friend and teammate through 2010 and 2014, Jonathan Kuck. He trained harder than probably anyone else in the sport. Just ask the short track team. He jumped in with them for one summer of training and was dropping most of the national team on 100 lap workouts. I am also pretty sure no one was stronger than him for off-ice training. Training with him has been very motivating for me to keep up and to try and train at a higher level.
What advice would you give to a young child just starting out in short track?
Try to make friends and keep the sport fun.
Who is your biggest rival? Is it friendly or contentious?
Koen Verweij may be my biggest rival. I am probably not his biggest rival but we have competed against each other since we were juniors in the sport. He was overall junior world champion two years in a row when I was second and third. Though I was junior world champion in the 1000 and 1500 our final year as juniors. He is the type of athlete that who has made it as a celebrity and on a pro team in the Netherlands. We have been on the podium many times together in the 1500; although I have the faster personal best, he has more World Cup wins. He also calls me "Brian Not so Handsome."
Have you become close friends with any competitors from other countries?
Yes, I have trained with Japanese, German, Dutch, Swiss, and Norwegian skaters. One skater from Germany who I trained with one summer, Robert Lehman, I became good friends with. I found out after one of the World Cup races that I had bumped Robert off of the Olympic team in the 5k. This 5k was an optional race for me and I didn't consider the possibility of knocking my friend Robert off the Olympic team until after it had happened. Though he was from another country and I have to race my own races, I still felt bad about it. He ended up making the Olympic team through later World Cup races. We were still friends and he was there helping me all the way to the start line for my 1500 in Sochi.
What was the best part of living in the Athletes’ Village during the Games?
In Sochi, I took pictures with all the Chicago Blackhawks. This probably caused more buzz than any of my actual racing.
Who was the most influential in helping you achieve your dreams?
My parents and my coach are the three most influential in helping me achieve my dreams. One story of my mom helping me out was when I went for a workout [outside] when it was about to rain. I thought I would be ok because it was supposed to be a light rain. I got half way through my workout and it turned into a heavy downpour. While I was doing some exercises underneath a tree to stay out of the rain, my mom pulled up in a minivan and asked if I wanted a ride home. I said I think I'll be good, I only have a little longer left and the rain started to let up. About 2 minutes later I was back on the bike and the rain just started dumping. My mom came back and opened up the side door. She didn't have to even ask if I wanted a ride. She just knew at that point that I would want a ride because the rain was too heavy to continue working out. I just said thanks and I got in the car and she drove me home. It is moments like these when you have a parent with an instinct to help you out in any way. I didn't call her or ask for a ride, she just knew where I do my bike rides and saw that it was going to rain and came to pick me up all on her own. I will always be appreciative of things like that.
How and where do you train over the summer?
This summer I have trained mostly in Milwaukee. I do weights at the Froedtert Sports Medicine Center and I do bike rides in the afternoon outside.
If you have already won an Olympic medal, where do you keep it?
I won a silver medal in 2010, I keep it in my closet.
What is your favorite perk of being an elite Olympic athlete?
Getting to go inside the USA house at any Olympics. I love meeting other Olympians and I especially love to see them come inside the USA house right after they won a medal.
What are your pre-competition rituals?
Before many of my 1500s I like to show up to the rink kind of last minute. I show up only about an hour and fifteen minutes before my race and go through quick warm up and then get ready. Sometimes I like to run just a little bit late to keep me focused all the way up to the start line. Also running a little late helps with adrenaline.
Do you have a lucky charm?
I gotta make sure I brush my teeth before I race or else I go crazy.
Are you superstitious? What are you sure to do around competitions?
My cousin gave me blue M&M's before many of my races. I typically race well eating blue M&M's so I try to keep that up.
Do you have a nickname?
Yes my rival that I mentioned earlier, Koen, calls me "Brian Not so Handsome."
Do you have any hidden talents?
Do you collect anything?
I collect crinoid fossils on beach of Lake Michigan. I look for them whenever I go to the beach.
If you were not an athlete, what would you be doing?
When you have time off, what would constitute a perfect day for you?
Surfing on Lake Michigan and then getting Mexican food and watching an outdoor movie.
Do you like to travel? What has been the most special place you have traveled to and why?
Yes, Hawaii, it was the last family vacation that we took and my brother, my mom, me and my dad were all in the same place just enjoying the week together.
What's something quirky about yourself that people would be amused to learn?
Probably surfing on the lake year-round even when it is snowing, raining and freezing temperatures.
What are some of your hobbies?
Surfing on the lake; I went 50 some days last year all throughout the year. I went in South Korea too after the world championships, I went with my training partners and I've brought old skaters out to go surfing. It's a lot of fun to explore the coast line of Lake Michigan and check out different surf spots. It's fun because whenever you are out surfing in the winter you immediately become friends with whoever else is in the water. Both people are kind of wondering what the other person is doing in the water in the middle of winter.
Outside of training for your sport, what physical routine makes you feel your best?
Mashing, when my coach or team mates walk on my legs.
What are five must-have items you always keep in your gym bag?
SKLZ Hydro-Roller (product I licensed), Skratch Labs hydration mix, MyLaps transponder, DesignsForHealth Recovery Mix, Oakley sunglasses.
Have you been to South Korea before? What are you most looking forward to about the Games being hosted in South Korea? Anything you want to see or do?
Yes, I love the food there. I want to surf after the Games are over (which I did after the World Championships).
Do you like kimchi or any other Korean foods?
Yes, I love almost all Korean food.
Have you ever done karaoke? What’s your go-to karaoke song?
Yes--very bad at it.
What will success look like for you in PyeongChang? What are your goals?
Will you head home for the holidays prior to the Games? What do you most look forward to? If not, where will you celebrate and with whom?
Our Olympic Trials are right after the holidays. I look forward to those being done with. My cousin is getting married the day before New Year's Eve so that would be nice celebration.
Does your family have any unique holiday traditions?
Yes, my grandpa always brings weird things to our get togethers. Such as frog legs, head cheese, alligator tail, and many other things that often times I don't eat.