The Olympians

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Mark Baker/AP

The Olympians: Katie Hoff

August 06, 2008
by Liz Colville
At 15, Katie Hoff was the youngest competitor at the 2004 Athens Games, and despite the clear promise she showed during practice, trials and prelims, she did not medal. Four years later, Hoff returns to the big arena, having turned in a world record in the 400-meter individual medley at the Olympic Trials in Omaha.

Hoff was born in 1989 in Palo Alto, California, to a top Stanford basketball player; her mom, Leanne, competed in the first women’s NCAA tournament there and is still the fourth-ranked point scorer in the school’s history. But Hoff lacked the hand-eye coordination to continue her mom’s legacy, and found she had a greater talent in the pool. At age 11, she watched idols like Kaitlin Sandeno compete in Sydney, and four years later, got to go to the Olympics herself. She’s lived in California, Arizona, Virginia and now Maryland, where she trains at the same Baltimore pool as Michael Phelps.
Hoff admits she was unprepared for Athens: not in the pool, but in her head, which led to some upsets during her races. She “lost touch with what had been working for her, instead paying attention to what other swimmers were doing,” noting that the “expectations and pressure were overwhelming.” But in retrospect, that first intimidating competition helped prepare Hoff for her second.
There was plenty for Hoff to do after the Athens Games were over. In 2006 she proved her potential by setting an American record in the 200-meter individual medley at the U.S. Nationals.
In Melbourne the following year, Hoff went head to head with her Australian rival, Stephanie Rice, in the 400-meter IM, setting a world record after a slow pace in the first half of the race. Rice finished third.
Rice seized the record from Hoff in March of this year, but on June 29 at the U.S. Olympic Trials, Hoff snatched it back, winning the race in 4:31:12. On the same night, Michael Phelps broke his own world record in the same event. He has appropriately described Hoff as the “little sister he never had.”
Watch Hoff in the 400 IM final, courtesy of
Out of the pool, Hoff maintains a blog on, where she also shares her other interests, idols, favorite swimming moments and least favorite swim workout (a 9000-meter IM capped off with an 800-meter IM). You’ll find other top swimmers’ bios and blogs on this site, too.
The Baltimore Sun, the best media hub for coverage of Hoff and teammate Michael Phelps, has video interviews, photo slideshows and news stories on Hoff’s progress in the Olympic trials. Before the trials, Hoff told the Sun that she holds the IMs “closer to my heart,” explaining that this four-stroke event allows her to gauge her fitness level and progress better than events like the 200-meter freestyle, another of her strong suits. She also mentions that being a “morning person” wasn’t native to her, but more than a decade of swimming has transformed her into someone who can get up bright and early and swim fast.
Hoff doesn’t just swim; she dances. Performing with a hip-hop class since early 2007, the new hobby was a “quasi-experiment in cross training,” writes the Washington Post. Before that, Hoff “spent one day each week rock-climbing up an indoor wall.”
Beginning August 9, Hoff will be competing in Beijing. Her biggest events will be the 200-meter and 400-meter IMs and the 200-meter and 400-meter freestyle races; she’ll likely be in medal contention for all. You can watch coverage on NBC and Turn to the swimming section of NBC’s site for multimedia, live streams and news coverage.

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