Jeanne Hoff calls it a "light-bulb idea," not a calculated move. Her daughter was training with older teenage boys, and she wanted her in a group closer in age and goals. In June, the Hoffs traveled to Baltimore to scout housing and for some workouts.
Katie Hoff joined the NBAC but swam at a satellite training center in Harford County, not the pool in the Mount Washington neighborhood of Baltimore where Phelps worked out.
As part of a small group under Yetter, Hoff made tremendous strides, dropping about 10 seconds off her time in the 400 IM before the 2004 Olympic trials.
"If we saw some other people internationally doing that we would be accusing them of performance-enhancing drugs," says Stephens. "But it just happens if you have a person who's ready to respond to the training and has the skill development and who is able to get a fantastic amount of personal attention."
"There's no doubt in my mind that I wouldn't be where I am today without Paul and NBAC," Hoff says.
AccessoriesThings to know about Katie Hoff:
She has an Olympic rings tattoo and her e-mail address contains an "08." The tattoo, on her lower right back, came after her breakout performance at the 2005 world championships in Montreal. She got parental permission after making the 2004 Olympic team but held back until she was sure she could make the statement stick.
She is one of the few female swimmers to accessorize her competition wardrobe. Swimmers do everything to cut down on drag in the pool, but Hoff refuses to part with her earrings, which she says give her a feminine look, even in a swimming cap.
She loves to dance and was taking lessons at a Towson studio before she decided earlier to put all her energy into Olympic training. Hip-hop is her favorite, but as in swimming, she's game for any style.
She was home-schooled, with the exception of fourth grade, as was her younger brother, Christian. "It was really a good start for them to be themselves and get really grounded, and then when they went out in the world they pretty much knew who they were," Jeanne Hoff says. "We just kind of took it one year at a time, and we just kept going."
Katie Hoff always sets goals with rewards. In the practice pool, she bets teammates. At the Omaha Swimvitational, the last Grand Prix competition before the Olympic trials, it was a gooey piece of cheesecake laced with chocolate and caramel. After her triumphant trials, it was indulging in one of her biggest weaknesses - purses - with a black Louis Vuitton model.
When she returns from the Olympics, it will be to her own home. Just before the Olympic trials, she closed on a condo near the North Baltimore Aquatic Club but had no time for decorating. Her mother painted the bedroom purple, her favorite color, and her parents moved furniture from their home to hers.
Growing up fastThe 2004 Olympics was a physical, mental and emotional roller coaster. Hoff got a crash course on growing up.
"Oh yeah, on everything," she says, with an uncomfortable chuckle. "I flew under the radar right up until Olympic trials and then I was hit with it like a bomb. … I wasn't prepared.
"All my emotional energy was used just to make the team. So when I made it, and I made it in two events, I think I overshot myself," she says. "I was just trying to eke my way onto the team in one event. I was almost ready to go home after trials. It was, like, 'Oh, what? I have to compete again?' I kind of had to regroup and try to get myself psyched up again."
After trials, the team flew off to Majorca, Spain, for a pre-Olympic training camp. Hoff was by herself, on her first international trip.
During long-distance phone calls, Jeanne Hoff could hear the growing desperation in her daughter's voice and fretted that Yetter, her daughter's coach and emotional rock, was not allowed at training camp.
"Oh God, it was horrible, when your kid is struggling halfway around the world and there's nothing you can do about it," she says. "I would liked to have been in Athens even though I know it wouldn't have mattered. We had to pass it up because we couldn't afford to have all three of us go and we weren't going to leave Christian behind. It wasn't an easy decision. But Katie needed Paul, and nothing we could have done would have mattered."