Hoff's fortunes determined by hundreds of a second
To Kevin, et al.,
Subject: What just happened?
I wish I could describe the look on Katie Hoff's face. But I can't. I wish I could understand what happened. But I don't.
After failing to advance to the finals, Hoff was the last one out of the pool following her finish in the 800-meter freestyle preliminaries today. As she walked through the "mixed zone" -- the area in which reporters interview athletes -- she was dazed. She was exhausted. And she was flushed. This is the way the Olympics ended -- not with a gold, but an early out.
Questions abound. And there are few answers because Hoff wasn't able to talk, and her coach Paul Yetter ducked out of the Water Cube and didn't answer questions or his telephone. I suspect Hoff fully appreciates bringing home a silver medal and a pair of bronze medals, but expectations were much higher, based largely on the impressive times she'd posted in the months leading up to the Games.
I don't buy the idea that Hoff couldn't handle five individual races and a relay, which will no doubt be the popular theory from here on out. She's been swimming this type of program for a long time now, and she's had success with it.
Hoff's Olympic woes didn't come down to six events, a hurried schedule or that final 800-meter race that sent her home early. In fact, it came down to just a few meters and just a couple of seconds. In her second race of these Games -- the 400-meter freestyle -- Hoff looked to have gold wrapped up. You could almost see it around her neck, beautifully complimenting her earrings. But from out of nowhere came Great Britain's Rebecca Adlington, passing Hoff over the course of just a couple of strokes and winning by 0.07 seconds.
That's what Hoff's Olympics came down to: 0.07 seconds.
Hoff was shocked, and she never recovered. Two fourth-place finishes followed. Then a bronze on a relay team. And then the disastrous 800 free. A race in which she could have challenged for gold, she failed to even get past preliminaries.
Hoff can be a victim of nerves as easily as she can a beneficiary of confidence. We'll never know for certain, but if she wasn't nipped to the wall by Adlington, we probably would have seen a different Hoff enter the pool for those final four races.
She could swim six races as well as almost anyone, but she has to believe she can. That's the sign of a champion, as much as anything else.
(Photo: Associated Press)