ATHENS — ATHENS - Any concerns that Katie Hoff would suffer aftereffects from her poor performance on the opening day of Olympic swimming were allayed in the first two rounds of the 200-meter individual medley yesterday.
The 15-year-old from the North Baltimore Aquatic Club aced two tests. She was the third fastest in both the preliminaries and the semifinals. She won her evening semifinal and will be in Lane 3 in tonight's final.
"I'm just so happy because I got over my disappointment and I'm in my first Olympic final," she said.
Hoff will swim alongside Yana Klochkova, the Ukrainian who is favored to win her second gold medal here and the fourth of her career. Amanda Beard will be in Lane 5 as the second seed, but Hoff has beaten her American teammate before.
Kirsty Coventry of Zimbabwe and Australia's Lara Carroll are also medal contenders.
Hoff swept the IMs at the U.S. trials last month when her 400 IM was the fastest in the world this year. She was expected to contend for a medal in Saturday's 400 IM, but didn't come close to making the final and collapsed in shock on the deck afterward.
"I really don't have an explanation," Hoff said. "It was just nerves."
After that race, Hoff saw her time on the scoreboard and recoiled in horror. Yesterday morning, when she produced in the preliminaries, a wide grin spread across her face and she nodded her head.
She was cool and collected in the semifinal, when her time of 2 minutes, 13.60 seconds was 0.30 of a second behind Klochkova.
"That's what Katie Hoff is all about," said Paul Yetter, her coach. "If she doesn't have a successful swim, she's going to come back the next time with one. She doesn't get down. She doesn't focus on the past; she focuses on the future."
The youngest member of the 500-plus American contingent here, Hoff had several phone conversations with her parents in Abingdon and constant reassurance from teammates. This is her first international meet.
"A year ago, Katie was 17th at the nationals in the 400 IM," Yetter said. "This year, she was 17th at the Olympics and had her second-best morning [preliminary] swim ever. Everybody makes it [Saturday's heat] out to be a horrible thing. It's a pretty good swim."
Michael Phelps was America's only gold medalist on the first two days of Olympic swimming, but Aaron Peirsol and Natalie Coughlin swept the 100 backstrokes last night.
Defending champion Lenny Krayzelburg was just 0.03 of a second from taking the silver medal.
Peirsol was under considerable pressure to produce, having created an international controversy with his claim that Japan's Kosuke Kitajima used an illegal dolphin kick to beat Longhorn Aquatics teammate Brendan Hansen in Sunday's 100 breaststroke.
In the women's race, Coughlin beat Coventry by 0.13 of a second.