By John Lohn and Dana Lawrence Lohn
INDIANAPOLIS, Indiana, July 31. ONE of the most anticipated events of the night lived up to its billing when Kate Ziegler and Katie Hoff battled side-by-side for the duration of the 800 freestyle. In the end, it was Ziegler (The Fish) holding off Hoff (North Baltimore) with a winning time of 8:22.33. Hoff was a shade behind in 8:22.80.
"Tonight I was just looking to have a good race," said Ziegler. "I'm here to finish off my season. Kate is versatile, tough and very, very fast. There's a little pride at stake, and I could see her next to me. It helped me to push … I've got asthma, and I dove in and all the sudden I couldn't breathe." Meanwhile, Hoff, who clearly shares a warm friendship with Ziegler, pointed out that she's "never raced Kate [Ziegler] and I've never done this event at Nationals, so my game was to stay as close to Kate as possible. I took it out harder than normal … I'm thinking about adding this to my regular repertoire – either this or possibly the 200 backstroke."
Ziegler and Hoff are the women that USA Swimming will be looking to in the years to come and there's no doubt they'll continue to push one another to greater heights. In the last lap, Ziegler, the two-time defending world champ, and Hoff both dug deep, but it was the American distance queen who had enough to reach the wall first. For Ziegler, the win was the latest accolade of her summer, which included a world record in the 1500 free at the TYR Meet of Champs. There, Ziegler clocked 15:42.54 to take down Janet Evans' long-standing mark of 15:52.10. Hoff became the eighth-fastest performer in history. Ziegler already ranked second to Evans.
Leah Gingrich, a 17-year-old representing the West Shore YMCA, was third in 8:36.97. Gingrich was a member of the United States team at the World Champs, taking part in the open-water events. Prior to swimming the 800 free, Gingrich took part in the 200 fly, placing 11th overall. Gingrich was followed in fourth place by Emily Brunemann in 8:37.77.