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By John Lohn
OMAHA, Nebraska, June 27. FOUR years ago, she was the darling of the Olympic Trials. Day after day, she destroyed the competition, ultimately walking away with five victories. This time around, Katie Hoff can't catch a break.
Hampered by a stomach bug brought on by something she ate the night before the 400 freestyle, Hoff looks like she'll miss out on a berth to her third Olympic Games. After failing to advance to the final of the 400 free, Hoff was able to qualify for the semifinals of the 200 free on Wednesday morning. While she stepped onto the blocks, despite feeling lousy, Hoff only managed a time of 2:00.68, good for 20th place.
The 200 free was the best chance for Hoff to qualify for the London Games, as the event offers six positions. Now, her only chance of heading across the pond is the 800 freestyle, and there is no guarantee she'll even contest the event later in the week. Even if she does enter the 800 free, she's a longshot.
“I'm feeling a little better and was able to eat breakfast this morning,” she said. “But I'm not myself. My stomach is literally in knots. I'm going to leave it up to my coach (Paul Yetter) to decide if I'll do the (800 free) or not.”
Falling ill at the Olympic Trials or Olympic Games is any athlete's nightmare, and Hoff is unfortunately living the experience. And, she hasn't been the only athlete to come down with sickness. Tyler Clary was running a fever leading up to the 400 individual medley and Teresa Crippen hasn't been feeling well, either. The timing, obviously, is terrible.
While Hoff wasn't expected to shine in the same manner she did in 2008, she certainly had the chance to compete in London, particularly as a member of the United States' 800 freestyle relay. She was a member of that relay at last summer's World Championships, helping the squad to the gold medal.
“I haven't felt my normal pop,” Hoff said. “I've been trying to stay positive and optimistic, but I've felt sluggish. Coming in, I was feeling great and was confident in my training. I thought I had a good chance in at least the 200 free for the relay.”
**The big showdown on the program during the evening session will be the clash between Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps in the 200 freestyle. The race will be Round Two of the battle between the sport's superstars and a Lochte win would assure him of a series victory for the Olympic Trials. After tonight, Lochte and Phelps will meet once more, in the 200 individual medley.
The last time Lochte and Phelps met in the 200 free in a major competition, Lochte held off Phelps to win the gold medal at the World Championships. It was his first victory over Phelps in the event and further elevated his status as the No. 1 swimmer in the world. Now, Lochte will try to retain the upper hand in the rivalry.
**One of the other big matchups on the evening slate will be the women's 100 breaststroke, where Rebecca Soni is the heavy favorite. The leading storyline out of the event, however, is the battle for second between Jessica Hardy and Breeja Larson. It's a matchup of an established star in Hardy and a rising star in Larson, who is the reigning NCAA champion from Texas A&M.
**Question of the Morning: How fast will we see Missy Franklin and Rachel Bootsma go in tonight's championship final of the 100 backstroke?
**Speaking of the final of the 100 backstroke, Natalie Coughlin made a strategic decision with her schedule. In order to conserve energy for the 100 back, Coughlin scratched from the 200 individual medley. The two-time defending Olympic gold medalist in the 100 back, Coughlin will need to be near her personal best (58.94) to earn the chance at a three-peat in London.
**A happy birthday goes out to one of the legends in the sport, Adolph Kiefer. The 1936 Olympic champion in the 100 backstroke, the 94-year-old Kiefer was the first man in history to crack the one-minute barrier in the 100-yard backstroke. As proof of his dominance, he held the world record in the 100 back for 15 years.
Adolph Kiefer Interview
Follow John Lohn on Twitter: @JohnLohn