Hoff Makes an Overhaul Into 'Whole New Territory'

By Amy Shipley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 14, 2009

BALTIMORE -- Katie Hoff slid on a 35-pound vest that resembled a life jacket but felt like dead weight. "Don't get it all sweaty, please," one of her male training mates said, causing her to roll her eyes, and then she lowered her body to the gym floor at Loyola College and began doing push-ups.

Straining under the vest's weight, she churned out one properly executed, toes-to-the-floor push-up after another, 26 in all, before collapsing.

"I can do 27," announced Michael Phelps, the 14-time Olympic gold medal winner who is one of Hoff's training partners. "Actually," he said upon reflection, "I don't know if I can."

Nine months after winning one silver and two bronze medals at the Beijing Games, there is no question Hoff, 19, is physically stronger. She hits new heights in the training room every day; minutes after her first set of push-ups, she pounded out no fewer than 53 regular ones.

Yet Hoff isn't sure what to conclude from the enhanced strength. Will it help her swim faster? In the aftermath of a tumultuous Olympics, Hoff overhauled her training regimen so radically she obliterated the sense of comfort that old routines, even flawed ones, provide. The heavy expectations she felt after winning five events at the U.S. Olympic trials last summer and earning the moniker, "The Female Michael Phelps," have been replaced by uncertainty and questions. And aches.

Not only is Hoff doing weight training for the first time, but she is adjusting to a new coach and new training group while having ditched her specialty event (the 400-meter individual medley), shifted her emphasis to the freestyle stroke, commenced college classes and moved out of her parents' house in Towson into her own place in Baltimore.

At the Charlotte UltraSwim, a grand prix event with a strong but mostly American field that begins with Thursday's 800 freestyle, Hoff claimed the highest seed in three of the four disciplines in which she is entered (100, 200, 400 and 800 free). Yet she is not sure what to expect.

"This year is a whole new territory for me," Hoff said. "I've had a lot of practices where I've come home crying."

Hoff walked into major change as soon as she returned from Beijing, moving straight into her own apartment, which she had purchased with her mother's help -- and earnings from the 10-year Speedo contract she signed at 16 -- a few months before the Games. She has furnished it gradually, the most notable item being, perhaps, a vintage print of "Rosie the Riveter," the World War II era icon who flexes her biceps below the slogan, "We can do it!" It hangs in her kitchen. It is huge. It draws snickers from her swimming buddies. She loves it.

Then, upon her return from a six-week vacation to Costa Rica with her boyfriend, fellow swimmer Brennan Morris, Hoff began taking classes at Loyola College. After years of home schooling and training at the North Baltimore Aquatic Club, she wanted to remain close to her family during her freshman year.

Finally, with her personal life reorganized, Hoff surprised Phelps's longtime coach, Bob Bowman, with a major request: Could she join his incipient elite training group at NBAC, which has grown to include Phelps, Nick Thoman, Haley McGregory and Morris?

After five years under Paul Yetter, another coach at NBAC, Hoff wanted a new direction in the pool. Figured to be a medal contender in five individual events in Beijing, she seemed overwhelmed by the schedule and posted slower times than previously in four of the five. Meanwhile, she had grown to detest the 400 medley, an event in which she held the world record as recently as last year.

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