By Phillip Whitten
AUBURN, Alabama, January 18. WITH all the hoopla surrounding Michael Phelps, and the additional excitement generated by the Auburn-USC dual meet, it is understandable that a national age group record might be overlooked.
That's exactly what happened this weekend in Auburn, Alabama, as 14 year-old North Baltimore phenom Katie Hoff continued to give notice that she's a definite contender for a spot on the 2004 USA Olympic team.
Only a month after smashing the 200 meter individual medley national age group record for girls 13-14 with her 2:16.26 at the US Open, and still in the midst of heavy training, Hoff carved another two-hundredths off her month-old mark.
It was easy to miss. After all, Hoff finished third in her race. But a closer look puts her swim in proper perspective. Finishing first in 2:14.70 was Auburn's Kirsty Coventry, a citizen of Zimbabwe and the 2002 Commonwealth Games champion.
Second place, in 2:15.96, went to former Auburn star Maggie Bowen, the 2001 world champion in this event. Then came Katie.
Three-time Canadian Olympian Marianne Limpert was fourth in 2:18.14, with 2000 US Olympian Kaitlin Sandeno fifth in 2:18.37.
What was most impressive was the way young Katie swam her race. She took it to her elders, taking the lead on the fly leg in 29.36 — ahead of the entire field including Sandeno, an Olympic finalist in the 200 fly. She lost that lead on the backstroke, but moved right back into contention with a 39.35 split for the breaststroke — second only to Coventry's 39.10 and equalling Bowen's time. Bowen is an outstanding breaststroker, having placed second in the 100 breast at NCAAs with a sub-minute 100 yard breast time to her credit.
Katie gave up about a second on the free, as Bowen passed her for the silver, but this young lady is making her presence known.
Katie Hoff: Come July, remember that name in Long Beach.