|By John Lohn
OMAHA, Nebraska, July 2. THE rest of the world must be shaking their heads. Can the United States actually be this talented in the 200 freestyle? In a field that was absolutely loaded, even with the absence of Natalie Coughlin, Katie Hoff dug deep and collected her third individual-event invitation to the Beijing Olympics.
Hoff jumped to the lead from the start and held that position throughout the race, fending off Allison Schmitt at the wall to prevail in 1:55.88, under her previous American record of 1:56.08. At the finish, Schmitt, a rising teenage force, was gaining ground on Hoff and also touched in a time faster than the previous American record. Schmitt went 1:55.92 to secure the second individual berth to China.
"It was a best time, so I can't complain," Hoff said. "I mean, [Allison] gave me a great race, and that can only mean good things for Beijing."
Grabbing the third and fourth slots, and automatic Olympic bids for the 800 free relay, were Julia Smit and Caroline Burckle. Smit produced a time of 1:56.73 while Burckle checked in with a performance of 1:57.93. The first three women are likely to be on the 800 free relay, along with Coughlin, who handled the leadoff leg at last year's World Championships.
"I knew I had to go out fast and hang with Katie Hoff and Allison Schmitt," Smit said. "I did it."
Grabbing the fifth and sixth positions and the Olympic berths that will likely occur when enough double-winners emerge were Kim Vandenberg (1:58.02) and Christine Marshall (1:58.16). Vandenberg is among the top contenders in the 200 butterfly. The final two spots in the final went to Dana Vollmer (1:58.67), a 2004 Olympian, and Kara Lynn Joyce (1:58.83)
Video Footage Removed Due to NBC Restrictions
Go to Swimming World's 2008 Olympics Landing Page for the most comprehensive coverage of the meet on the Internet.
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Photo By: Peter H. Bick