INDIANAPOLIS, July 7 — This story has played out before, a 15-year-old youngster soaring out of the North Baltimore Aquatic Club, all optimism and talent and potential. Elizabeth Pelton, the youngest swimmer entered in the 200-meter individual medley at the national championships, flew into that joyous role with her surprising second-place finish, clinching a spot on her first world championship team.
Towson’s Katie Hoff, now 20, was once that 15-year-old sensation from NBAC.
Tuesday night, however, she could not have been farther away from that glorious place.
About 40 minutes after Pelton realized her dream faster than just about anyone expected, Hoff swam an almost incomprehensibly dismal race. Eleven months after a disappointing Olympic Games, Hoff — once labeled “the Female Michael Phelps” — sank, perhaps officially, into a slump: She did not make the team in an event she has been dominant.
She finished sixth in 4 minutes 12.34 seconds, more than 10 seconds slower than her personal best, more than five seconds behind first-place finisher Allison Schmitt (4:06.77) and nearly two seconds slower than she swam in the morning’s heats.
“It happens to everybody,” said her coach, Bob Bowman. “Katie hasn’t had a meet like this ever. She will learn from it and move on.”
Distraught after the performance, Hoff declined to talk to reporters.
Adding an additional slap to an already painful day: Julia Smit, 21, the Stanford swimmer who topped Pelton (2:09.34 to 2:11.03) did this, too: She broke Hoff’s American record (2:09.71) in the event.
That didn’t stifle Pelton’s celebration one bit. Leading after the butterfly and backstroke legs, Pelton lost ground during the breaststroke but hung on despite a fierce race over the final 50 meters.
She didn’t know she had earned a spot in Rome until she peered at her coach at NBAC, Paul Yetter, in the stands with the more than dozen other NBAC swimmers competing here. They were all jumping up and down, she recalled, and screaming.
“I was pretty surprised,” Pelton said. “I always knew, in the back of my head, I had a chance. But in the last 25 meters I was like, ‘Wow, this could happen.’.”
Happen it did. Pelton topped Ariana Kukors, 20, who was fifth in the 400 IM at the 2007 world championships and finished in 2:11.07. She also beat North Dakotan sensation Dagny Knutson, 17, who overshadowed Pelton at last year’s world junior championships in Guam but finished fourth in 2:11.11; as well as the highly regarded Elizabeth Beisel, 16, who came home in 2:11.80. It didn’t hurt that neither Hoff nor Olympic star Natalie Coughlan is competing in the even
t this year.
“It was a stacked field for sure,” Yetter said. “Liz is a very tough, determined swimmer. With the race on the line, she’s just going to gut it out.”
Pelton arrived at NBAC from Fairfield, Conn., in 2006. She moved with her mother and siblings, leaving her college-professor father behind, for one reason: To take advantage of the high-profile swim program that had made young stars out of Hoff and Michael Phelps, both of whom made their first Olympic teams at 15.
Like Hoff, Pelton developed under Yetter. And, like Hoff, she will now begin training under Bowman, who has coached Phelps since he was 11. Hoff left Yetter after she won three medals, but no golds, at the Olympic Games last summer. Pelton will leave Yetter simply because he is leaving.
Yetter accepted an assistant coaching position at Auburn University, still reeling from the recent death of coach Richard Quick from brain cancer. At the end of these championships, he will leave for the new job and Pelton will shift into Bowman’s training group.
“She has great potential,” Bowman said.
Hoff, meantime, will have to pick up the pieces, and fast. She competes Wednesday in the 200 freestyle. Bowman said she was surely affected by an illness that caused her to drop out of a recent meet in Santa Clara. She missed, Bowman said, substantial training time and, on top of that, she’s been tinkering with her stroke.
But physical problems are not her only ones, he said.
“She was just not there, probably psychologically and physically,” Bowman said. “She’s not doing too well right now.”
Said Yetter: “I believe she’s going to come back to be very, very good again.”
Gangloff Sets 100 Breast Mark: In the men’s 100 breast, Mark Gangloff, wearing a new Jaked suit, upset Eric Shanteau, wearing an Arena X-Glide, and claimed an American record in the process, topping former world record holder Brendan Hansen’s mark of 59.13. Gangloff touched the wall in 59.01 seconds, edging Shanteau, who finished in 59.45 — the second time he had gone under the one-minute barrier Tuesday.
Gangloff’s time approached Kosuke Kitajima’s world record of 58.91 and represented a drop of 1.09 seconds from Gangloff’s previous personal best.
The new suits seem to have had an inordinate affect in the breaststroke events, which have seen massive time drops around the globe.
“You just feel differently all over,” Shanteau said. “The way these suits are, you sit differently in the water.”
Madwed Claims Spot at Worlds: In the men’s 400 free, former NBAC swimmer Dan Madwed, 20, also claimed a spot at the Rome world championships with his finish in 3 minutes 47.24 seconds. Olympic veteran Peter Vanderkaay, 25, finished first in 3:45.17. …..
Reigning Olympic silver medal winner Christine Magnuson, 23, came close to her American record in winning the 100 fly, finishing in 57.15 wearing the X-Glide. Magnuson, who set her American record (57.08) at last year’s Olympic Games, beat out Dana Vollmer, 21, who touched the wall in 57.32. North Baltimore Aquatic Club’s Felicia Lee, 17, finished sixth in 58.53.
“I know I can be faster in Rome,” Magnuson said. …..
In the men’s 400 individual medley, Ryan Lochte out-touched Tyler Clary at the finish, winning in 4:06.40 to Clary’s 4:06.96.