By John Lohn
OMAHA, Nebraska, June 29. THINK Stephanie Rice was tuned in Down Under?
Three months after losing her world record in the 400 individual medley to Rice during the Australian Olympic Trials, Katie Hoff is back on top of the world in the grueling distance medley. The North Baltimore Aquatic Club star turned in a time of 4:31.12 to eclipse Rice's standard of 4:31.46. She was followed in second place by Elizabeth Beisel in 4:32.87, which was under the former American record of 4:32.89.
The overwhelming favorite heading into the event, Hoff took the lead on the butterfly leg by splitting 1:03.69. Hoff gave the lead to Beisel on the backstroke leg, which is Beisel's strongest stroke, then regained the lead with another superb effort on the breaststroke leg. At the touch on the breast leg, Hoff was well under Rice's world standard and stayed strong on the freestyle.
When Hoff and Rice convene in Beijing, it could be one of the best races of the women's program, though there are going to be plenty of events that could be tagged in that fashion. Meanwhile, Beisel is suddenly a medal contender in a big way and with her rapid development could be in the mix for the gold medal. Remember, she's only 15.
Julia Smit was the tough-luck finisher, grabbing the third position in 4:35.73, a time that would be a national record in nearly every country in the world. More, that time would have qualified for the Olympics in every other year. However, American swimming is incomparable right now and swims that could challenge for a medal in China will be left off the U.S. Team.
Finishing fourth was rising star Caitlin Leverenz, who should contend for a 200 breast spot later in the week. Leverenz was timed in 4:38.54.
Kathleen Hersey (4:42.07), Ariana Kukors (4:42.12), Alicia Aemisegger (4:43.32) and Julie Stupp (4:46.01) rounded out the final.
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.