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Chloe Sutton, Katie Hoff emerge from Pan Pacific swim championships with Team USA spots

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 21, 2010; 1:19 AM

IRVINE, CALIF. - Drama and intrigue blanketed the women's 400-meter freestyle competition Friday at the Pan Pacific Championships, an event in which one of the night's biggest winners did not even jump in the pool.

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Only two U.S. women competed in the night's final. But a total of four Americans had a huge stake in the outcome: A spot in next year's world championship meet in Shanghai.

In the end, Chloe Sutton, who trained for two years in McLean, and Towson's Katie Hoff - who watched from the stands in a Team USA tank top and sunglasses - earned those spots.

Sutton got the gold with her finish in 4 minutes 5.19 seconds. Hoff stayed dry and still got a world championship slot. Kate Ziegler of Great Falls put up a blazing time, the second-fastest of the night (4:05.52) - but got nothing out of it. She did not win the silver medal because she had only managed to qualify for the evening's consolation final; she watched the final from edge of the pool.

To make matters worse, she missed out on a world championship slot because her time was a mere .02 of a second too slow. "It hurts," she said. "It's frustrating. But I'm excited to see Katie on the team."

Hoff, the reigning Olympic silver medal winner in the event, had swum poorly in the morning heats, surprisingly failing to advance to the final or consolation final after dominating the event at the U.S. championships.

That left her hoping that the Americans competing, Ziegler in the consolation final and Sutton and Allison Schmitt in the final, would win - but with slower times than she managed in the U.S. championships, when she went 4:05.50.

If her time stood up, she would represent the United States in the event in Shanghai.

"It was so nerve-racking," Hoff said. "I knew it was going to be close. I didn't know it was going to be two-hundredths close."

Here's how it all went down: Ziegler, who like Hoff, had no chance to claim a medal or Pan Pacifics title, led off the night with a stunner. She put out a time that surpassed her effort in the morning by more than three seconds.

It seemed likely that she had laid down a time neither Sutton, who until last year was an open-water specialist and who finished second earlier in the week to Ziegler in the 800, nor Schmitt, a 200 specialist, could touch.

"I wish I could have been in the final, because I think I could have gone [even] faster" with a stronger field, Ziegler said. "It's a lesson learned."

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