Katie Hoff

Katie Hoff shares ‘Blueprint’ for a unique swimming career in memoir

Katie Hoff
Getty Images

From making her first Olympic team at age 15, Katie Hoff was labeled the U.S.’ next swimming superstar and spent the next decade authoring a distinct career.

Hoff’s memoir, “Blueprint: An Olympian’s Story of Striving, Adapting, and Embracing the Suck,” was recently released and is available here. Here is an excerpt:


Go on. Blink your eyes.

How long do you think that took? A fraction of a second, for sure, but what fraction? A quarter of a second? A fifth? A “split” second, whatever that means?

Google it. Google it and you’ll find that for the average person, a blink takes about a tenth of a second. Pretty fast, in other words.

Now let’s put that tenth of a second in context. Say you’re in the Olympics, a swimmer, and you’re racing for a gold medal. The race is 400 meters long, eight lengths of a 50-meter pool, and you’re swimming freestyle. At the last turn, with one length of the pool to go, you’re ahead, by about a full body length, which at the Olympics is a lot. Thirty meters from the finish and you’re still winning, but the swimmer in second place has started to close the gap. Ten meters out, your lead continues to shrink, but it still looks like you’re heading for gold. Five meters.

Four. Three. Two. You stretch. You reach out for the wall. But you’re not the only one reaching for the wall. The swimmer two lanes over, the British girl, the one who has been closing that gap, is reaching for it, too. Blink now, and you’ll miss the most important part.

Katie HoffThat race, of course, is not hypothetical. It’s my race. The year is 2008, and the pool is at what they called the Water Cube, the blue bubble-sided swimming venue for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. Everyone who follows swimming even a little bit remembers that Olympics because it’s the one where Michael Phelps won eight gold medals, breaking a record that had stood for 36 years. Some in the media called me “the female Phelps,” because I was supposed to come home from Beijing with a bunch of gold hanging around my neck, too. I didn’t discourage the label. Mine may not have been a household name like his, and I wasn’t going to win eight gold medals, but winning four wasn’t out of the question. Or now three, as the day before this race I finished third in the 400-individual medley, an event I was favored to win. The swimmer who won that race broke the world record I had held. Third place means bronze, and bronze is nice, but it’s not gold.

The 400-freestyle is not my best event, and in this one I’m not the favorite. And yet when I do my flip turn and push off the wall for the last time and head into the final 50 meters, I’m ahead by enough that it looks like I’ve got this one.

At the finish, if you watch a video of the race, you can’t tell who gets there first. But the wall—the high-tech wall with its state-of-the-art micro-sensors—the wall knows. And it’s not me. I touch second, by seven hundredths of a second, or less time than it takes to blink.

Finishing second at the Olympics means you win a silver medal, and for most people, winning a silver medal at the Olympics would rank high among the greatest achievements of their lives. But if people are calling you “the female Phelps,” in the eyes of the world, all finishing second means is you lost.

I’ve only watched that video once, and that was by accident. Why don’t I watch it? Because I don’t have to. I know what happened. I live with what happened every day of my life. It’s changed my life, but for worse? For better? At the time I was sure it was for the worse. But now, I’m not so sure.

You can dive off into your life with the most precise blueprint for how it should unfold, but things don’t always go the way you planned. At least for me they didn’t.

This is my story.

Phelps, who for a time was a training partner, endorsed the memoir: “I have so much respect and admiration for Katie Hoff as a person and an athlete. She helped push the progression of women’s swimming and now courageously shares her insights and challenges in and out of the pool in Blueprint. Through it all, Katie’s mettle is gold.”

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Katie Hoff retires from swimming

Katie Hoff
Getty Images

Katie Hoff, a three-time 2008 Olympic medalist, announced her retirement from swimming due to blood clots in her lungs on Monday.

“I have given this a lot of thought and after 1.5 [years] of struggling with the effects of blood clots in my lungs, I have decided to officially retire from the sport of competitive swimming,” Hoff said, according to her social media. “While this has been an extremely frustrating decision to have to make, I have consulted with my doctor and concluded that retiring is the best choice for my long-term physical and mental health and happiness. Unfortunately, the length of time that the blood clots were undetected has resulted in a buildup of scar tissue that have decreased my lung capacity, which is significant enough to make swimming at the highest level an unrealistic option for me.”

Hoff, 26, won three medals each at the 2005 and 2007 Worlds and 2008 Olympics. She swept the individual medleys at the 2005 and 2007 Worlds.

She took a one-year sabbatical after failing to make the 2012 Olympic team (she was ill at trials), returned and posted promising times leading into the August 2014 U.S. Championships before starting to suffer from blood clots during that meet.

She then pulled out of the December 2014 World Short Course Championships and last competed in April, according to USA Swimming’s results database.

Hoff’s career has been marked by tremendous achievements, including making her first Olympic team at age 15 in 2004 and breaking her first world record at 18.

She is the youngest U.S. Olympian (Summer or Winter) since 1996, and she holds the oldest American record in an Olympic men’s or women’s swimming event (400m individual medley, 2008 Olympic trials).

It’s also included plenty of stressful times, from vomiting poolside at the 2004 Olympics to having to swim at the 2008 Olympics under the media label “female Phelps” after she won five individual events at the Olympic trials. She took home zero golds among her three medals in Beijing.

People will often tell Hoff, “You swam at the Olympics and won medals. That must be amazing.”

“Not that amazing,” Hoff said last year. “Every time I’ve been at a big meet like that [Olympics, World Championships, even U.S. Championships], I’ve almost dread about the events. I’ve been stressed out and worried.

“It’s something that I always struggle with, staying relaxed.”

Katie Ledecky broke one of Hoff’s records, the American record in the short-course 1,000-yard freestyle, on Sunday.

MORE SWIMMING: U.S. stays undefeated at Duel in the Pool

Katie Hoff out of Short Course Worlds after blood clots

Katie Hoff

Katie Hoff, a three-time 2008 Olympic medalist, withdrew from the World Short Course Championships in Doha, Qatar, in December, because she’s been advised against international air travel following two blood clots in her lungs.

“I do not believe it would be right for me to [compete at Short Course Worlds] when I am not 100 percent,” Hoff said in a statement, according to Swimming World.

Hoff, 25, pulled out of three events and was 27th in the 100m freestyle at the U.S. Championships in August. She thought she was slowed by an intercostal strain at that meet but since learned the problem was the blood clots.

She’s not traveling internationally as a precaution, she said. Hoff plans to enter the Minneapolis Grand Prix in two weeks and a full schedule in 2015. Hoff took a yearlong sabbatical after failing to make the 2012 U.S. Olympic team.

Nick Thoman, the London Olympic 100m backstroke silver medalist, also pulled out of Short Course Worlds. Thoman dealt with a shoulder injury for much of 2014 after taking time off after the Olympics.

Conor Dwyer focused on Doha after losing Michael Phelps, Yannick Agnel