LONG BEACH, CALIF. — LONG BEACH, Calif. - As the finalists paraded for the women's 400-meter individual medley at the U.S. Olympic swimming trials, the sound system blared a version of "American Woman."
"American Girl" would have been more appropriate.
Katie Hoff, a 15-year-old who last summer moved from Virginia to Abingdon, is going to Athens, Greece, next month. She shook off morning jitters, took the lead with 130 meters left and posted the fastest time in the world this year in the 400 IM, then said: "I have dreamed about this since I was a little girl."
"I'm incredibly excited," Hoff said. "I still can't believe this. I'm so proud to be representing the United States in the Olympics. It's going to be a crazy experience."
It might seem a bit insane, but not for her club.
Only one other female in the eight-lane final was younger than 19, but Hoff comes from a culture that specializes in sending kids who aren't old enough to drive to the Olympics, as this is the fourth straight U.S. trials in which the North Baltimore Aquatic Club (NBAC) produced a 15-year-old qualifier.
In 1992, Anita Nall won relay gold. Four years later, Beth Botsford won a backstroke in Atlanta. In 2000, it was Michael Phelps, who finished fifth in Sydney, Australia, but has gone on to become possibly the most versatile swimmer in history.
Paul Yetter, Hoff's coach at the NBAC's Harford satellite location, is all of 28 himself.
At 5:13 p.m. local time last night, Phelps set a world record in the men's 400 IM. About 40 minutes later, Hoff scared the American record. Her time was 4:37.67, and the U.S. standard of 4:37.58 was set by Summer Sanders in 1992.
That figures to fall in Athens, as Hoff certified herself not just as an Olympian, but also as a threat to reigning champion Yana Klochkova of the Ukraine.
Hoff rebounded impressively from the morning's preliminaries, when she went out too fast and was reeled in by two other swimmers. She began the day as the second seed, but five others went faster in the morning, when Hoff crawled from the pool, staggered and sat down on some steps as she caught her breath.
Her preliminary time was 4:49.16, nearly 10 seconds off the mark that got the world's attention at the Santa Clara International two months ago, but Hoff leaned on her experience at the Spring Nationals in Orlando, Fla., in February. Then she chopped 10 seconds off her time from the prelim to the final, when she won her first national title.
"I have a problem of going out way too fast," Hoff said. "Unfortunately, that problem can cause me to die in the last 100."
It was not an issue in the final, when Hoff settled into second behind Kaitlin Sandeno. Yetter sat stoically through the first 250 meters, but when Hoff passed Sandeno on the second lap of the breaststroke, the third stroke, he stood up and started whistling and waving his heat sheet.
Hoff turned the freestyle leg into a celebration that pushed her past names like Janet Evans and Tracy Caulkins on the all-time U.S. rankings.
NOTES: Dominic Szabo of the NBAC reached tonight's final of the 100 breaststroke. Jamie Barone was 12th fastest in the semifinals. ... The NBAC's Emily Goetsch, who entered with one of the top six seed times, failed to advance out of the preliminaries in the 100 butterfly. Bethany Goodwin, 24, who went to North Harford High and then UCLA, reached the semifinals of the 100 butterfly. . . Courtney Kalisz, Hoff's 14-year-old training partner, was 32nd of 46 in the 400 IM preliminaries.
Olympic swim trials
Who: 650 U.S. swimmers
What: Qualifying for the 2004 Olympics. The first two in each of 13 events earn berths in Athens, Greece.
When: Yesterday to Wednesday
Where: Long Beach (Calif.) Swim Center
TV: NBC (chs. 11, 4). Tomorrow, 8 p.m.; Sunday, 8 p.m.; July 18, 1 p.m. (tape)