U.S. women set record in 4 x 200

The Baltimore Sun

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA -- The veteran Olympian -- a gold-medal winner and a world-record holder -- was nervous. The American's 4 x 200 freestyle relay team didn't look good in qualifying, was stuck in Lane 8 after barely making the final and now a tired Natalie Coughlin was going to have to put together a strong swim in the opening leg, or the U.S. might be in trouble.

Seeking comfort, Coughlin turned to her teenage teammate minutes before the race, a 17-year-old with little relay experience at the international level. The veteran was seeking guidance from the rookie.

"I just reminded her that she's in the best shape of her life," said Towson's Katie Hoff, who was set to swim the anchor.

"Katie was definitely helping me out beforehand," said Coughlin, who broke the American record for the 200-meter freestyle, helping the U.S. team take a commanding lead that resulted, when Hoff touched the wall, in a world-record time of 7:50.09.

This is the world Hoff is living in these days. Not only is she capable of giving advice to someone like Coughlin, who won five medals at the last Olympics, she was also a part of the first world record of her career.

"First I wasn't sure, but then I looked at the TV screen and saw that it said 'WR' next to our time," Hoff said. "I couldn't believe it. I was so excited."

Said Coughlin: "When Katie touched at the 150, she had two seconds [on the field]. She brings it home very, very hard, and she never dies the last 50. Well, I don't want to jinx her, but I was really confident in her finishing strong."

Hoff, who won her second gold medal of the FINA World Championships, is favored to win her third Sunday in the 400-meter individual medley. She is the defending world champion in the event.

kevin.vanvalkenburg @baltsun.com

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