On her own, Hoff shows maturity and growth

Towson swimmer without parents, coach in Australia

Swimming

March 27, 2007|By Kevin Van Valkenburg | Kevin Van Valkenburg,Sun Reporter

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA -- Imagine this: You check into your hotel after a long flight across the ocean, grab a towel and swimsuit, and head to the pool for a quick dip before lunch. It's empty, except for one person, a 17-year-old girl methodically swimming laps. The water churns and parts as she glides along, powered by a stroke that is technically perfect.

Would you dive into the lane next to her, wearing ear plugs and holding a kickboard, knowing you'd be sharing the water with a world champion?

That was the potential scenario facing anyone staying at the same hotel as Katie Hoff yesterday afternoon. Hoff, who needed to kill some time before swimming in the 200-meter individual medley final, decided to drop by her hotel's 25-meter pool for a relaxing afternoon swim.

FOR THE RECORD - Swimmer Katie Hoff's parents, John and Jeanne, and her brother, Christian, are attending the FINA World Championships in Australia. An article in Tuesday's editions said they had remained home in Towson.
The Sun regrets the errors.

In some ways, it's the equivalent of Michael Jordan's walking into a sports bar for a friendly game of Pop-A-Shot, or Jeff Gordon dropping by the local dealership to test-drive a minivan. But it's also quintessential Katie Hoff.

Whether it was simply good timing, or the intimidating prospect of sharing the pool with an elite athlete, is impossible to say. But Hoff had the pool all to herself.

"It was just me, all alone," Hoff said. "It was nice."

All alone, and on her own, is a good way to describe Hoff this week. Her parents chose to remain in Maryland, as did her coach, Paul Yetter, during the FINA World Championships. The Towson resident calls them after each race, updating them on her progress, including her victory in the 200-meter IM yesterday, in which she nearly broke a 10-year-old world record, but for the most part, she's on her own.

It's a testament to Hoff's maturity and growth in recent years. She still gets nervous before races, still scrapes away her pink nail polish anticipating her next swim. But she is, for the most part, relaxed and confident, an athlete entering her prime.

"I think she's just really coming into her own," U.S. head coach Bob Bowman said. "She's got everything in a good perspective now. Success came really quickly at a really high-profile time for her, and she's had a chance to really deal with that. She's had the chance to see her career in the long term, and I think that's really helped her a lot."

Hoff continued her strong showing this morning, cruising in her heat of the 200-meter freestyle, finishing with the second-fastest time of the day (1:58.17), behind France's Laure Manaudou, who clocked in at 1:57.66.

"I just felt really good when I dove in," Hoff said. "I think I made sure I took care of everything last night, eating and drinking. I got a rubdown this morning, and I felt pretty good. That's one of my best morning swims."

How she would handle a busy schedule was something of a question for Hoff coming into this week, but she's had no problems. She finished a surprising fourth in the 400-meter freestyle, then rode a dominating breaststroke to victory in the 200 IM.

"My breaststroke has been going really well," Hoff said. "I knew that would be my time to break away."

The only real disappointment for Hoff so far has been her failure to find the perfect dessert at her hotel restaurant, which she wanted to do to celebrate her fourth world championship gold. She vowed to order something decadent, something chocolate, but the hotel didn't have it.

"It wasn't chocolate," Hoff said, with playful frustration. "It was like a strawberry thing with Jell-O. But I still had it. It was good."

All eyes now turn to Michael Phelps and Pieter Van Den Hoogenband as they face off in the finals of the men's 200-meter freestyle. The race is the first time the two have faced each other since the Athens Olympics, when Ian Thorpe won gold, Van Den Hoogenband won silver and Phelps got bronze. Thorpe, the world record holder, retired last year.

"I think Michael is very excited to race," said Bowman, who is also Phelps' personal coach. "He loves to race the best, and [Van Den Hoogenband] is the best."

kevin.vanvalkenburg@baltsun.com

ONLINE

Michael Phelps is scheduled to compete this morning in the final of the 200-meter freestyle in Melbourne, Australia. For a report on the results, go to baltimoresun.com/phelps

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