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HAMMOCK: Olympic gold medalist Shanteau hasn't decided swimming future

Brendan Hansen, left, is congratulated by Eric Shanteau after winning the men's 100-meter breaststroke final at the U.S. Olympic swimming trials, Tuesday, June 26, 2012, in Omaha, Neb. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Brendan Hansen, left, is congratulated by Eric Shanteau after winning the men's 100-meter breaststroke final at the U.S. Olympic swimming trials, Tuesday, June 26, 2012, in Omaha, Neb. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Eric Shanteau rarely returns home from swim meets empty-handed.

The Parkview grad has racked up trophies and trinkets, medals and ribbons, from his early days in the Gwinnett County Swim League to major international meets. He owns four World Championships medals, two of those gold, but he earned his most prestigious one this summer in London.

"Olympic medals are pretty special," Shanteau said. "Those World Championship medals, nobody really asks to see those."

Shanteau returns to Georgia this weekend for the first time since winning his first Olympic medal with the Americans' 400-meter medley relay. It will be the first chance for those close to him to see the medal, a crowning achievement on what could be his last major swimming competition.

After narrowly missing the U.S. team in 2004 and missing out on a medal in 2008, when he delayed cancer treatment to compete, Shanteau finally got the coveted Olympic gold last month.

"I think it was satisfying (to win gold) more than anything else," said Shanteau, who turns 29 on Oct. 1. "Not everything went perfectly for me this summer, but you look back on it and I came back with a gold medal. It's like a lifetime of work paid off."

That heavy pool work was consistent from a long year-round career at SwimAtlanta to an All-American career at Auburn to the past six-plus years as a professional swimmer. Outside of a brief break (barely more than three weeks) for cancer treatment, Shanteau hasn't spent much time away from the water.

But the next few months will be about rest and relaxation. He still works out in the weight room to stay in shape, but hasn't swam since the Olympics.

He took a vacation last week and his upcoming trip to Atlanta will involve other activities outside of the pool, like a visit to Children's Healthcare of Atlanta next week and an on-field ceremony to honor Georgia Olympians at Monday's Atlanta Falcons game.

His third annual Eric Shanteau's Swim For Your Life event, a fundraiser for the Lance Armstrong Foundation, is next Saturday, Sept. 22. After it finishes up, he has a few speaking engagements lined up. He also will represent the American Cancer Society in an upcoming speech to the Congress in support of government spending for cancer research.

In short, there is plenty in the coming months to keep him busy outside of swimming. He relishes that time, which he hopes will help him decide his future in swimming.

He still ranks among the world's best swimmers, particularly in his best event, the breaststroke. With that in mind, he may work toward next summer's World Championships. He also may call it a career and retire from competitive swimming.

"I'm not prepared to answer that (retirement question) one way or the other yet," Shanteau said this week. "I've never had the chance to do what most people do after the Olympics and take time off. In 2008, I only had 3 weeks off because I wanted to get back to something normal after the cancer. Most swimmers take 3 months after the Olympics.

"I'm looking forward to doing that, just taking the time to decompress and then I'll start thinking about the future."

Will Hammock can be reached via email at will.hammock@gwinnettdailypost.com. His column appears on Thursdays. For archived columns, go to www.gwinnettdailypost.com/willhammock. For Hammock's blog, go to www.gwinnettdailypost.com/willsworld.