MILWAUKEE -- Brian Hansen's family has a photo of him, at age 12, wearing an ear-to-ear grin as he poses with his speedskating hero, Shani Davis. It was taken more than a decade ago, when Davis was an emerging star and Hansen was a neophyte on skates, his mop of hair barely reaching Davis' shoulder.
Who knew then what it foreshadowed?
Davis and Hansen, both natives of suburban Chicago but now based in Milwaukee, could soon be posing for more photos -- this time on the podium at the Winter Olympics.
They are expected to lead a talented U.S. long-track team in Sochi, Russia, and will compete in the same races, the 1,000 and 1,500 meters. They're also likely to form the backbone of a men's pursuit team that should be a medal contender.
First, however, they have to make the Olympic team at the long-track trials Friday through Wednesday at the Utah Olympic Oval in Salt Lake City. They'll race in the 1,000 on Sunday (2 p.m. CST, NBC) and the 1,500 on Tuesday (5 p.m. CST, NBCSN).
Although anything can happen at the one-shot trials, Davis and Hansen are virtual locks to make the team.
Davis is the world record-holder in both races and is ranked No. 1 in both in the World Cup standings. Hansen is ranked third in the 1,000 and fourth in the 1,500, even though he skipped two of the four fall World Cups to concentrate on his training at the Pettit National Ice Center.
Davis, 31, will be one of the biggest stories in Sochi as he pursues a third consecutive gold medal in the 1,000. He also won silver medals in the 1,500 in Turin and Vancouver.
The 23-year-old Hansen, meanwhile, could be one of America's breakout stars. Four years ago, he was the youngest U.S. long-track Olympian and was happy just to make the team. He finished 18th in the 1,500 and helped the Americans win the silver medal in team pursuit.
"Before Vancouver, I almost didn't even want to talk about the Olympics because I didn't want to quote-unquote jinx myself," Hansen said. "I didn't want to say, 'I'm going to make the Olympic team' and then . . . nothing."
This time around, a stronger and faster Hansen is much more confident in his ability and isn't afraid to put his goals out there.
"I've had four more years under my belt to improve, so coming back now I have a little bit higher goals," Hansen said. "I'm more willing to say, 'A goal of mine would be to win an individual medal.' I think that's one of the main differences."
Nancy Swider-Peltz Sr., Hansen's longtime coach, didn't hesitate when asked what would constitute a successful Olympics for him.
"Top three in both races," she said. "I think he can podium in both. I'm not going to say which color (medal). He's capable of any color. He's capable of all colors."
Hansen, a native of Glenview, Ill., has done it his way. He's never trained with the national team, preferring the familiarity of Milwaukee and the Pettit Center ice and the consistency of Swider-Peltz's coaching to the national program.
"I've trained independently my whole life, actually," Hansen said. "I'm one of the only skaters not to move out to Salt Lake City and train with the national team. It's something that's always worked for me and I've built my training and my home around it.
"I'm certain there are things out there that I'm missing out on, but what I gain by maintaining the same coach and doing the same program has overpowered that in many ways."
Hansen attended Marquette University for 11/2 years after the Vancouver Games but put his education on hold to train for Sochi.
He lives -- or rather, sleeps -- in a studio apartment near the Marquette campus.
"There's not even a TV," he said. "Just a bed."
He spends much of his time at the Pettit Center, where he typically trains twice a day, five days a week. Between training sessions, he'll eat lunch and catch a nap just down the block from the Pettit in a house Swider-Peltz rents for her skaters.
In his spare time Hansen has worked with his brother to develop a product called Bottlebark, a combination foam roller-water bottle available for $30 at http://www.bottlebark.com.
A creature of habit, he said he eats the same sandwich for lunch nearly every day.
While other skaters regularly change coaches or training environments -- even Davis has been nomadic over the years -- Hansen has stuck to the same plan and it's worked for him. He's had a personal best in at least one distance every year since he started skating.
"You figure out what works for you and you stick with that," said Hansen, who estimated that he has spent 5,000 hours at the Pettit Center. "You have a program and instead of switching it all around you take one piece out one year and put in a different piece the next year."
In the fall World Cup opener in Calgary Nov. 8-10 he won silver in the 1,000 and won the "B" group race in the 1,500 with a time that would have taken bronze in the "A" race.
In Salt Lake City the next week, he finished second to Davis in the 1,500 with a time of 1 minute 42.16 seconds, the sixth-fastest time ever skated at that distance.
"And Shani has the fastest three, so I'm the fourth-fastest person, which is kind of cool," Hansen said. "Chad Hedrick, Denny Morrison (of Canada) and Shani are the only guys who have gone faster than me in the 1,500."
He also won bronze in the 1,000 and silver in team pursuit with Davis and Jonathan Kuck, another Milwaukee-based skater. Their time of 3:37.22 was a U.S. record.
Hansen skipped World Cup races earlier this month in Astana, Kazakhstan, and Berlin and came home to prepare for the trials.
"There's a certain amount of strategy involved because the Olympics is, at least in the United States, everything," Swider-Peltz said. "So we took the strategic move to put all our cookies in that basket."
If it all works out, there will be plenty of photo ops in Sochi.
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