Katie Hoff feels comfortable with her decision to leave the North Baltimore Aquatic Club, her training home for the past six years, to join a start-up, post-graduate swimming group in Fullerton, Calif., for this reason:
She’s excited about swimming for the first time in a long, long time.
Hoff’s trying year began with an Olympic performance that failed to meet heavy expectations, included myriad changes in her personal and training life and culminated in her failure to qualify for this summer’s world championships. So Hoff, 20, decided she needed a fresh start.
She liked the idea of a change of atmosphere and the chance to swim alongside female swimmers who are her contemporaries in age and share similar abilities and goals. In Fullerton, she will train under Centennial High graduate Sean Hutchison and with world-class swimmers Ariana Kukors, Margaret Hoelzer and Caroline Burckle.
“NBAC has been my home for six years now,” Hoff said Tuesday. “I’m really sad to leave. It’s been my second family, but I feel like there are a lot more opportunities in California for me.”
After the July 7-11 U.S. championships, in which Hoff earned a sixth in the 400-meter freestyle and eighth in the 200 free before withdrawing from the 800 and 100 freestyles, she took six weeks off and pondered the move to Fullerton, which had been presented to her as a possible option by USA Swimming officials as the plans for the training center were formalized.
The U.S. Olympic Committee announced Monday that Hutchison would take over the program at the Fullerton Aquatic Club Team (FAST), the newest of three partially funded post-graduate training centers along with the NBAC and SwimMAC in Charlotte.
Hoff admitted she had pondered quitting swimming during the last 12 months, but that changed, she said, “when the new opportunity presented itself to me, I knew there was a lot more swimming in me. I didn’t want to make a decision off of one [down] year. I’ve always loved to swim, and I really wanted to get that feeling back.”
Hoff said she and Burckle have already found a house they will rent together, and she’s spoken by phone to Kukors, who seems to share the same intensity about training, Hoff said. Kukors and Hoelzer had trained under Hutchison at the Seattle-based King Aquatics.
“There’s going to be a pretty big group,” Hoff said. “I feel like we don’t have a ton of post-graduate girls [in swimming]. I’m kind of excited to see a team of post-graduate women who will be training together.”
In Beijing last summer, Hoff won one silver and two bronze medals, but that wasn’t nearly enough to satisfy those who had dubbed her “The Female Michael Phelps” leading up to the Games. She switched coaches that fall, leaving former NBAC coach Paul Yetter, who is now at Auburn University, to train under Bob Bowman. She also started college at Loyola College, moved into an apartment for the first time and began weight-training, something she had never done previously.
Hoff felt fatigued by the uncustomary workload and, she said, never got comfortable in her new situation.
One of the issues, she said, was the small size of Bowman’s post-graduate group, which included Michael Phelps and no more than four others.
“Everyone kept telling me everything happens for a reason,” Hoff said. “I was like, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah; I’m just [ticked] off.’ But during the last six weeks I’ve started to believe everything does happen for a reason. I learned a lot this year, and what works for me … Obviously I didn’t do everything perfect this year, and I think I will take that with me. I’m definitely working the next three years with the ultimate goal of [the 2012 Olympics in] London.”
Bowman said he is a long-time friend of Hutchison, who attended the University of Maryland at Baltimore, and supported Hoff’s decision to make the change given the difficulties she has had.
“I wish her the best,” Bowman said. “I think it was a very tough situation for her in the last year. I think it will be great for her to go out there and start fresh … I don’t think she had anybody she could really relate to here with our group. It was either guys, or girls who were pretty much younger.
“It’s not like it was anybody’s fault … It never really worked.”
Since she has done little besides abdominal and aerobic work in the last six weeks, Hoff said, she expects it will take time to get back in top shape. She said she might compete in a local meet in December but likely will focus on getting ready for 2010 summer season, which includes the Pan Pacific Championships in Irvine, Calif., in August.
“I just want to have the feeling of doing good in the water again,” Hoff said,” and just enjoying swimming and enjoying the meets.”
Tags: Michael Phelps