ANNAPOLIS, Md., December 20. YOUNG Katie Hoff is in some pretty fast company.
The 15-year-old North Baltimore AC Olympian blasted two of the oldest age group records on the books this weekend at the NBAC Christmas Invitational here at the Naval Academy. Hoff broke the storied Tracy Caulkins' 15-16 standards in the 200-400 yard individual medleys (1:57.06-4:08.09), set a quarter-century ago during the AAU Nationals at East Los Angeles College.
She's moving into rarefied echelons on the all-time list too.
In the 400 IM, Hoff's 4:05.74 is now fifth fastest ever (performances) and fourth-best performer. Her 1:56.70 200 IM is not quite as good (18th-fastest performance) but she's now history's fifth-best performer. The closest active swimmer is Auburn's Kirsty Coventry (pr 1:56.90), who was Athens gold-medalist in the 200 back.
A native of the southern African native of Zimbabwe and a senior for Coach David Marsh' triple-defending NCAA champs, Coventry will be in the hunt for former teammate Maggie Bowen's NCAA record of 1:53.91, set two years at Texas when Auburn won its inaugural national collegiate crown.
Bowen's swim is also the current AR, which Coventry is ineligible to hold. She can, however, set a U.S. Open record were she to go 1:53.90 or better.
Bowen has the only sub 1:54.0 clocking. Former Cal great Natalie Coughlin's 1:54.95 from this year’s Pac-10s at Belmont Plaza ranks her No. 2 all-time (performers-performances).
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In evaluating Hoff's brilliant showing so far, it's important to remember she's competing in a relatively low-key, non-championship meet in the middle of winter. When Caulkins did her record swims at East LA in early April of '79, she was swimming in a national championship and her times were American records. She also set an AR leading off Nashville's 400 free relay in 49.03, which in turn usurped the 49.39 mark Riverside Aquatics' Cynthia Woodhead had set earlier that night in the 100 free race itself.
Among active competitors, Hoff's IM times are far and away fastest. Were she in college, rather than just in high school, she'd be a prohibitive favorite for NCAA gold next March.
As it is, she's faster all-time in the 400 IM, for example, than former USC Trojan great and two-time Olympian Kaitlin Sandeno (4:05.74 from this year's Pac-10s) and former SC NCAA champ Kristine Quance, '97 winner in 4:06.54. Sandeno was Athens silver-medalist in the 400 IM, setting an American record in the process. Quance, now retired and married to former USC butterfly All-America Jeff Julian, is the best swimmer of either sex to ever compete as a prep in Los Angeles and still holds City records in the 100 breast-200 IM.
Caulkins' records from East LA stood for only two years, broken by — you guessed it — TC herself during the U.S. Nationals at Harvard in April of '81. There Caulkins went American records of 1:57.11 – 4:04.63. She broke her 200 record as a senior at Florida two years later during NCAAs in Indianapolis with a 1:57.06 but never eclipsed that 4:04.63 for the 400.
(At the inaugural U.S. Swimming Short Course Nationals in Cambridge that spring, a certain Louisville native equaled Caulkins' feat of setting a pair of American records with her 53.00/1:52.99 100-200 yard butterfly wins. Her 200 mark, incidentally, lasted as the American record until December of 2002, when Cal's Natalie Coughlin splashed to a 1:51.91 at the Tiger Invitational in Auburn. (And, of course, later that summer this same Lakeside SC product — same team that current star Rachel Komisarz competes for — did even better at the U.S. Nationals in Brown Deer, WI. as she set world records in the 100 – 200 meter fly that would last nearly two decades (57.93-2:05.96). She'd go on to a stellar collegiate career under Coach Karen Moe Thornton at Cal and was a triple gold-medallist at the Los Angeles Olympics. Her name: Mary T Meagher, aka Madame Butterfly.
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To say that Caulkins and now Hoff were/are ahead of the curve is putting it mildly. Only one other person in history has a faster 400-yards IM clocking than Caulkins' 4:04.63. That would be former Stanford NCAA champ Summer Sanders, Barcelona Olympic gold-medallist (200 fly), who won NCAAs her senior season on The Farm with the current American/NCAA record of 4:02.28.
Hoff had a brilliant outdoor season this past summer, making the Olympic team on her first try in both medley races. While she didn't medal in Athens, she'll finish the year as No. 5 globally in the 200 IM (second-best American behind Amanda Beard) and fourth globally in the 400 IM (also No. 2 American behind Sandeno.)