Hoff and Coughlin set for epic battle
Posted: Wednesday, July 2, 2008 2:05 pm
By: By BETH HARRIS, AP Sports Writer
OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Katie Hoff and Natalie Coughlin usually dominate their events in the pool. But the indefatigable teenager and the highly decorated Olympian rarely swim against each other.
That changes tonight at the U.S. Olympic trials, when Hoff and Coughlin face off in the 200-meter individual medley final. Hoff clocked the fastest qualifying time, while Coughlin was third quickest — 1.78 seconds behind the 19-year-old from Baltimore.
Hoff recalled racing Coughlin at U.S. nationals a couple of times, but never on a stage as big as the trials.
“She’s going to be a great racer and I’ll look forward to the challenge,” Hoff said.
Both of them already have secured spots on the U.S. team for Beijing, so their matchup is all about adding another individual event to their Olympic schedules.
“I’m not thinking of the 200 IM as me against Katie or me against anybody,” said Coughlin, who won five medals at the 2004 Athens Games.
The IM features all four strokes — butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke and freestyle. Coughlin’s coach persuaded her to swim the event only a week ago.
“I can take it out fast in the fly,” Coughlin said. “My backstroke is good, but not spectacular in the IM by any means. My breaststroke, I try and hold it together as long as possible, and then I have a good freestyle.
“But Katie, her middle 100 is her real strength. She definitely brings it home in the freestyle, but she’s really good at the back to breast transition.”
Hoff is 2-for-2 in finals so far. Besides the 200 IM, she’ll be heavily favored to notch her fourth individual spot in the 200 free final tonight.
Coughlin set a world record in the 100 backstroke Tuesday night to punch her Olympic ticket.
Aaron Peirsol also got in on the record-setting action.
Racing about 10 minutes apart, Coughlin and Peirsol broke their own marks in the 100 back, marking the fifth and sixth world records of the meet.
Both of them were wearing the Speedo LZR Racer, which upped its tally of world marks to 44 since debuting in mid-February.
Coughlin became the first woman to break 59 seconds, just one day after she reclaimed the world record in the preliminaries. She touched in 58.97 seconds.
“I feel like a huge weight has been lifted,” she said.
Michael Phelps was on world-record pace as he powered toward the finish of the 200 freestyle, but he settled for the third-fastest time in history, 1 minute, 44.10 seconds.
“The only thing I was not happy with was the last turn,” he said. “That’s something little I can fix between now and Olympics.”
Phelps goes into Wednesday’s 200 butterfly final with the fastest qualifying time of 1:54.02. He owns the world record and is clearly the class of the field.
“I am ready for it,” he said. “I am not extremely exhausted by any means. The excitement of being in a final — it doesn’t matter how sore I am — I will still be able to get up and swim as fast as I can and hopefully give something good.”
That’s what Peirsol did in the 100 back, holding off a strong field and lowering his own record to 52.89, ahead of his 52.98 at last year’s world championships.
Six-foot-8 Matt Grevers took second just ahead of Ryan Lochte, who dropped out of the 200 free final — and another chance to race Phelps — to give himself a better shot to qualify in the backstroke.
The move backfired; Lochte came on strong over the final 50 but touched in 53.37, behind Grevers’ 53.19. Randall Bal, the fastest qualifier in the semifinals, settled for fourth in 53.45.
“That was probably the best field I’ve ever been in,” said Peirsol, one of the Nike-sponsored swimmers who ditched their regular suit to wear the LZR Racer. “I don’t think the Olympic field will be any harder than that.”
Lochte avoided reporters after the race.
“He’s got other races, and I’m sure he’s trying not to get caught up in this one,” said Phelps, who beat Lochte in the 400 IM when they both went under the previous world record. “He’s trying to move forward.”
In Tuesday night’s other final, Jessica Hardy earned her first trip to the Olympics by winning the 100 breaststroke.
The 21-year-old was under world-record pace at the turn but faded on the final lap. Still, she managed to win in 1:06.87.
Megan Jendrick, who won two golds at the Sydney Olympics but just missed making the team four years ago, claimed the expected second spot for Beijing in 1:07.50.