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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)

Comments

I agree that she looked more and more dejected as these games went on. I still love Katie and admire her courage to try such demanding swims!

She will be back in 2012

FOR YOU TO QUESTION THAT KATIE MIGHT NOT BELIEVE SHE CAN WIN IS ABSURD. JUST TO MAKE THE OLYMPICS IS A GREAT ACCOMPLISHMENT. SOMETIMES THINGS JUST DON'T WORK OUT THE WAY YOU THINK THEY WILL. ASK THE WOMENS GYN=MNASTIC TEAM OF THESE OLYMPICS, ASK THE COLTS OF 1969, OR THE ORIOLES OF 69, 71 AND 79. FOR THE MOST PART I LIKE YOUR COLUMNS, BUT IT'S NOT LIKE YOU'RE WRITING FOR THE WASHINGTON POST OR NY TIMES. YOU WRITE YOU FOR THE SUNPAPERS..ONCE A GOOD NEWSPAPER NOW A STEP ABOVE THE CATONSVILLE AND PIKESVILLE TIMES. KATIE HAS ACCOMPLISHED MORE IN HER SWIMMING CAREER THAN 99% OF ALL SWIMMING COMPETITORS IN THE HISTORY OF NATIONAL OR INTERNATIONAL SWIMMING. WHEN YOUR COLUMN GETS SYNDICATED OR YOU WIN A PULITZER YOU CAN THEN QUESTION HER GUTS AND WILL AND ABILITY.

Katie's a great swimmer, with all the talent in the world. Her problem is just in her mind. Completely agree: after she got caught from behind in that 400m free, she just never moved on and never swam her best again. Didn't help that in her previous events she was getting beaten by girls swimming record times, despite setting personal bests herself. Telling diff between her and Phelps: Phelps said he loves to win, but he hates losing more. I think Katie probably loves winning but fears losing. She's got to get to together between her ears; that's the only thing hlding her back. Wish her only the best. She'll have have another shot at this thing in 4 years.

Hey, the girl won three medals. It's hard enough to make the USA swim team. Deal with the over hype pressure of the press. In her first race, the two women who took 1st and 2nd smoked the water. It was a shock and dealing with the in your face press made her lose confidence. But the lady brought 3 medals to the US medal count. Great job. Focus on the positive!

She will be back in 2012

LOL - so will Adlington!

She will be back at 2012? so will Adlington as well!!

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About this blog
Sun reporters Kevin Van Valkenburg and Rick Maese will blog from Beijing throughout the Summer Olympics. Kevin and Rick will blog back and forth with each other as a way of letting readers in on the sights, sounds and the action in Beijing.
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