Debilitating start decks Hoff in 400 IM

15-year-old fails to make final after taking event at U.S. trials

Women's Swimming

Athens Olympics

August 15, 2004|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

ATHENS - Katie Hoff's Olympic debut was a disaster.

The 15-year-old from the North Baltimore Aquatic Club dived into the Olympic Aquatic Centre pool yesterday with the world's fastest time of the year in the women's 400-meter individual medley.

She finished fifth in her heat and didn't come close to advancing to last night's final. Hoff had a look of grief on her face when she viewed her time on the scoreboard, and was the last in her heat to exit the pool.

She collapsed on the deck, then moved behind a canopy, seeking privacy. She vomited, then was assisted from the deck by Joke Schubert, a member of the U.S. staff. After collecting herself, Hoff declined to comment. Paul Yetter, her coach, said her nausea was simply an Olympic-sized case of nerves.

"She hasn't been ill," Yetter said. "She's fine [physically], just a little bit nervous. This is a little bit of a new experience for her. The kid just turned 15."

Hoff's birthday is June 3. She is the youngest member of the 500-plus American contingent at the Olympics and is believed to be the only U.S. swimmer here without a parent. Yetter got in town Thursday evening, and worked his way onto the deck despite not having a coach's badge.

"If she had done well, no one would have been pointing fingers at that," Yetter said. "She's just got to relax."

Hoff, from Abingdon, Md., had been viewed as a medal contender in the 400 IM since February, when she won at the Spring Nationals. She scored a big victory in Santa Clara, Calif., in May, and won the U.S. trials last month in 4 minutes, 37.67 seconds, then the year's fastest time by nearly a second.

The 400 IM is contested in one day. At both the Spring Nationals and trials, Hoff dawdled through morning preliminaries, but advanced and swam about 10 seconds faster in the final. That luxury doesn't exist in international competition, and Hoff's fade proved costly.

She led her heat at 250 meters, midway through the breaststroke, but she dropped to second and third at the next two turns. She had no drive during the concluding freestyle portion. Her time of 4:47.49 was nearly 10 seconds off her best.

"She was out real controlled, looked great, but didn't quite have it at the end," Yetter said. "I'm not sure if she tightened up, but she didn't have it on the breast and free.

"If I knew exactly what happened, with Katie or anyone else I coached, I would be a heck of a coach. I would just program them and they'd do it, then they'd all have world records. That's the way athletics goes; sometimes it doesn't go your way."

Hoff's time ranked 17th among 24 in the preliminary. She wouldn't have even advanced in a three-round event. Yana Klochkova of Ukraine repeated as gold medalist, in 4:34.83. American Kaitlin Sandeno took silver, and chopped three seconds off the American record.

The only other women's final was the 400 freestyle relay, where the Australians set a world record, 3:35.94. (Germany hit 3:36.00 in 2002.) Jenny Thompson, 31, anchored for the Americans, and the silver was her 11th career medal, tying her for the Olympic record with swimmers Mark Spitz and Matt Biondi and shooter Carl Osburn. The time of 3:36.39 set a U.S. mark.

The good news for Hoff is that she has another event. Hoff also won the 200 IM at the U.S. trials, where she posted the third-fastest time of the year. That event will be contested tomorrow and Tuesday.

Medals leaders

Country G S B Tot.

China 4 1 1 6

Australia 2 1 2 5

United States 1 3 1 5

Today in Athens

Basketball: U.S. men vs. Puerto Rico.

Gymnastics: U.S. women in team qualifying.

TV schedule: Page 11E

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