ATHENS - Katie Hoff walked out on the Olympic pool deck and looked up at the stands filled with 10,000 screaming fans. She took her place behind the starting block and stared at the 50 meters of water ahead of her.
This time, the youngest member of the U.S. swimming team didn't panic.
"I was just like, 'Wow!'●" she said. "I looked up at my team - they're all cheering for me. It was really cool. I could just kind of feel the energy coming toward me, so it was nice."
The 15-year-old Hoff dived in and raced the 200-meter individual medley semifinal against much more experienced swimmers. She more than held her own, winning her heat in 2 minutes, 13.60 seconds last night to advance to the final.
"It didn't scare me," she said, smiling.
Hoff felt much differently Saturday, the first day of Olympic swimming competition. She failed to make the 400 IM final and vomited afterward. She wound up 17th - a shocking result for someone who swept the 200 and 400 IMs at the U.S. trials to earn a place on the team.
"I was just dealing with some nerves," said the youngest U.S. Olympian in Greece.
Her teammates rallied around her, including Michael Phelps, who swims for the same North Baltimore club. Paul Yetter, her coach, also counseled his young charge.
"He's been helping me get back on my feet after kind of a devastating first couple days," she said.
Hoff, a teenager from Abingdon, Md., who is home-schooled, also was helped by talking by phone with her parents a few times since Saturday.
"I'm just happy because I got over my disappointment and now I'm in my first Olympic final," she said.
In tonight's final, Hoff will take on defending Olympic champion Yana Klochkova of Ukraine, who won the 400 IM Saturday; teammate Amanda Beard; and Beatrice Caslaru of Romania, the silver medalist at the Sydney Games.
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