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It’s an hour of power for Hoff at swim trials

Times Staff Writer

OMAHA -- These Olympic trials are turning into a lost-and-found swim meet.

Of records.

Less than a month ago, Katie Hoff was told during a pre-trials event that Natalie Coughlin, swimming in a meet at USC, had broken Hoff’s American record in the 200-meter individual medley.

“I was in the ready room: ‘Did you hear? Did you hear?’ ” Hoff said, recalling the moment the other day. “ ‘Thanks, I did hear.’ ”

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On Wednesday night, the swimming world finally heard Hoff’s response, which resonated loud and clear with a scintillating double victory in the span of about 50 minutes, which included two American records. First, Hoff lowered her American mark in the 200 freestyle, winning in 1 minute 55.88 seconds.

The bookend to that came when Hoff won a stroke-for-stroke duel with Coughlin and Ariana Kukors in the 200 IM, which had been billed as the marquee race of the trials. Kukors actually led after the breaststroke leg, Hoff was second and Coughlin third.

“I could have had a great race and got third,” Hoff said.

But she had her trademark strong finish and won in 2:09.71, besting Coughlin’s American record of 2:09.77, set on June 6. Coughlin was second in 2:10.32, and Kukors third in 2:10.40. This was Hoff’s fourth individual victory in four races at the trials.

“It’s really hard. When you’re younger, you do that stuff all the time,” Hoff said of the double. “It’s harder when you’re 19. But I’m happy I pulled it out.”

Michael Phelps, who won the 200 butterfly in 1:52.20, regards Hoff as almost a little sister and teases her unmercifully. Though he has won three individual races and dropped out of the 200 backstroke, Phelps was asked about Hoff’s ambitious schedule making him look like a slacker.

“She’s younger,” Phelps said. “Give her four years.”

Said Hoff: “It gives me some ammunition against him, so thank you for that.”

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The hype for Hoff vs. Coughlin was probably enhanced because they had raced each other only twice before in the 200 IM. Coughlin was under world-record pace after the butterfly leg.

“My breaststroke kind of got away from me a little bit,” Coughlin said.

The hectic program featured several semifinals. Jason Lezak of Irvine broke the American record in the 100 freestyle (47.58), reclaiming the mark he had lost in the morning to Garrett Weber-Gale. In the 200 butterfly, the top qualifying time was posted by Elaine Breeden (2:07.33), with Mary DeScenza third fastest at 2:08.03.

Also, Ryan Lochte, who had the No. 5 qualifying time, scratched from the final of tonight’s 100 freestyle, so there was a swim-off between Alex Righi and Nathan Adrian, which Adrian won in 49.01.

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Watching their swim-off in a media area on a TV was none other than Phelps. Any sort of competition intrigues him and he also was impressed by the Hoff-Coughlin-Kukors contest.

“I thought, ‘Uh-oh, a photo finish,’ ” Phelps said.

Phelps and his coach, Bob Bowman, were moved by Kim Vandenberg’s double effort. Vandenberg, of UCLA’s Team Bruin, made her first Olympic team by virtue of her fifth-place finish in the 200 freestyle in 1:58.02, putting her on the 800 freestyle relay and about 25 minutes later she recorded the fourth-fastest qualifying time in the semifinals of the 200 butterfly.

Vandenberg sometimes trains with Phelps and Bowman in Ann Arbor, Mich., because her boyfriend Erik Vendt swims for Bowman.

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“It’s so relieving,” she said of making the Olympics. “Now I’m just so excited for tomorrow and the 200 fly, not having to do a 200 free right before it. The whole plan was just to get a lane for the 200 fly tomorrow night.”

Orange County-raised Kaitlin Sandeno, who won four medals in two Olympics, finished her competitive swimming career with the 200 IM, in which she was eighth in 2:15.87.

She was red-faced and teary-eyed, but had the quote of the night when she was talking about being realistic about moving on.

“I don’t live in a bubble, even though I’m from Orange County,” she said.

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lisa.dillman@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

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Duels in the pool

Highlights from Day 4 of the U.S. Olympic swim trials at Omaha:

Finals: Jason and the challengers. It’ll be 32-year-old Jason Lezak of Irvine, the American-record holder, fending off the 20-something kids in the final of the 100-meter freestyle. In the 200 butterfly final, five women qualified under 2:09, and Brendan Hansen will try to win his second individual event, the 200 breaststroke. Additionally, there are four semifinals tonight: the women’s 100 freestyle, the men’s 200 backstroke, the women’s 200 breaststroke and the men’s 200 IM.

Old guard: You have to like the age-distribution chart in the preliminaries of the women’s 100 freestyle. There are two 13-year-olds in the fifth heat, and 41-year-old Dara Torres in the 11th heat. Torres, aiming for her fifth Olympic team, will be one lane away from Katie Hoff, who has won four individual events.

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Quotable: “She’s a stud for doing the 200 free and the 200 IM double. It’s an incredibly tough double and I can’t think of another female who could do it so successfully,” Natalie Coughlin on Hoff.

-- Lisa Dillman


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