Life on ice: Olympic speed skater Brian Hansen goes for gold

This isn’t Brian Hansen’s first go-around. It’s nothing new to him. But it is, beyond a shadow of a doubt, the most important two weeks of his entire life.

The 23-year-old Glenview native is representing the United States in the Olympics this February and will be looking to medal in each of the four speed skating events he’s taking part in.

Nerves inevitably abound for Hansen, but there’s another side to the intensity of competition that is often forgotten: the athlete’s family.

“I would not have made it this far in the sport without my parents,” Hansen said.

A family affair

The Hansen family has been a member of the DePaul area for decades, arriving in 1965 and opening a real estate business in 1970. That agency, Hansen Realty, is still operating in the area and has transformed into a virtual fan site for their favorite athlete. The agency’s doors and windows are decked out in Olympic posters and signs, and several decorations serve to congratualate Hansen on his accomplishment of representing the United States.

“It’s been like that since Christmas,” Shirley Hansen, Brian’s grandmother, said. “We recieved flags for gifts and we decieded to put it up in front of the building so that everyone is alert to it.”

The sign of support is only a small part of the role that Brian’s family has played in his life up to this point. At a young age, his mother and father recognized his potential and decided to make every effort to ensure their son’s success.

“I always knew he was good,” his father John Hansen said. “He was always the fastest kid in grade school. He was always fastest in mile and half-mile. He’s always been fast. He’s always been the faststest kid, on his soccer team, on his hockey team … he’s always been a good skater.”

Training a potential Olympic hopeful takes more than simply seeing the talent, though. It was rather normal at first, but John and his wife Julie faced different challenges once Brian entered the world cup circuit.

“Up until he was 16 it was no different from any other kid with a sport. It may have been like that all through high school,” Mr. Hansen said. “Once he hit the circuit, it was different. We drove him an hour and fifteen minutes to training, back and forth. He dedicated a lot of time, so we made sure we dedicated a lot of time.”

“They drove me to practice too many times to count,” Brian said. “It was a huge commitment on their end as well and I’m very grateful for it.”

The athlete’s burden

A typical day for Brian involves three to six hours of training, followed by intense sessions of stretching and keeping in shape. It’s a full day activity and there’s no way to slice it otherwise.

Brian is not a professional athlete; he does not bring in a salary based on his performance and that also comes with interesting issues. For instance, he puts in immense amounts of time to perfect his craft, but he still has to get an education like any other 23-year old. He has two years of college under his belt as a student at Marquette University, and is planning on going to school out west once his training schedule slows down a little bit.

“Currently I’m not going to school,” he said. “But when I was at Marquette, it was really difficult but fun at the same time. Just getting from the dorms to class then to practice, which was off-campus, and back was tough. I eventually got into a rhythm and it became fun after that.”

“We’re proud of him being able to balance everything,” John Hansen said. “It’s really unbelievable.”

From parents to grandparents, it was a family effort to ensure that Brian could live as normal a life as possible while still going through the unimaginably tough training needed to perform at an Olympic level.

“I had nothing to do with it, his parents did,” his grandmother said humbly. “I just wanted to give him a day with grandma.”

Friend to friend

Brian’s family members aren’t the only ones eagerly anticipating his performance in Sochi. Fifth-year DePaul student Cecil Sabu is one of Brian’s high school friends and has nothing but high praise for his pal.

“He loves every second of it. You can tell it’s something he’s passionate about. He loves working with his teammates, he loves his trainer, he loves his family. He wants to wake up every morning and improve,” Sabu said.

Sabu recalled a night at the University of Illinois during the “Unofficial” party weekend when he and a few friends spent some time watching highlights of Brian’s races. Despite the events surrounding them, they were in awe of his speed and grace on the ice.

The two have known each other since about 2006 and while Sabu has never personally seen Brian in competition, he said that he has seen his friend in training and reports about his speed aren’t overstated.

“I’ve seen him train. He’s incredibly fast. I’ve seen him on the rink just speed around everwhere. It’s one thing to see him practice, he’s even better on television.”

And despite Brian’s success, Sabu has the same impression of his friend as most people seem to have.

“He has a very humble personality,” Sabu said. “It truly surprises you when you discover that he got silver (in Vancouver) and is a strong favorite for gold this year.”

Anticipation

What is the moment like? As a fan of the United States, it can be nerve-wracking from the perspective of wanting to see your country succeed. But what is the moment truly like, for a family so prominent in the life of an Olympic athlete?

“I never believe it until it actually happens.” Mr. Hansen said.

“It’s just a great feeling,” Sabu said.

“It’s wonderful,” Julie Hansen said. “It’s unbelievable, thrilling, awesome. All I can do is brag.”

In that moment before the gun goes off, Brian’s family and friends will be on the edge of their seats. But it’s all about what’s going on in the mind of Brian himself. Few 23-year olds will ever have the chance to live out their dreams in front the entire world. When he gets to the starting line, amongst friends and foes, he’ll be thinking about representing his country, representing his home, and representing his family.

“It’s an honor for me to represent our country on such a big stage,” Brian said. “Although we wear USA on our suits, I feel like I am representing much more than that. I represent Glenview and Chicago as well as Illinois.”

All of his hard work has led to this. Four events. Four chances to become Olympic royalty.

“I try not too have many thoughts going though my head. I just try to keep in mind a few technical thoughts and stay calm.”

If he can keep his head clear, nothing can stop him from achieving his dream of Olympic gold.