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Katie Hoff returns to pool feeling much older

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Once upon a time, Olympian Katie Hoff had high expectations heaped on her shoulders. The then-15-year-old was labeled the "next Michael Phelps," after she competed in her first Olympics Games.

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She seemed to be ready to follow the same path as Phelps. While training under the tutelage of Phelps' coach Bob Bowman, Hoff opted to turn pro and pass up her college years. She won gold medals in the 400-meter freestyle, 400-meter individual medley and the 4x200-meter freestyle relay at both the 2005 and 2007 World Championships.

She signed a 10-year endorsement deal with Speedo. She was certain to be the next big thing in the swimming world.

Then, at the 2008 Olympic Games, Hoff fell short of expectations, winning silver in the 400-meter freestyle and bronze in both the 400 individual medley and the 4x200 freestyle relay. She had been expected to earn six medals and left the Games with just three. Then, she failed to qualify at all for the 2012 Olympic Games.

I know, right now you're asking yourself "Why should I care?" Here's why: Because after retiring from the sport earlier this year to focus on her education, Hoff has decided to jump back into competition, and she says she's focused and ready to go.

She'd been in the pool for about 2.5 months when she jumped into her first meet in late November, where she swam to a time of 1:45.93 in the 200-yard freestyle, and 1:59.01 in the 200-yard individual medley.

In order to swim well at that meet, Hoff said she began to take pool training seriously, doing about eight practices each week, with a few strength and dry land sessions thrown in.

"Pretty much the whole last year I was in and out of the water, just kind of splashing around mainly doing land stuff," Hoff told the Florida Swim Network in November. "So I kept myself in land shape but as any swimmer would know, land shape and swimming shape (are) very different."

Hoff said she "ramped (her training) up pretty quickly," and she's optimistic about her training and future meets. A lot of things are different this time around, she said. She's now training with Hurricane Aquatics in at the University of Miami.

But her coaching and training locale aren't the only things that have changed. Hoff also is much older, and she says she feels that in the pool.

"I feel really old. I used to look at the heat sheets and be like 'Ugh, who's that mid-20s person? They're so old,'" Hoff joked while talking to the Florida Swim Network. "Now I'm that's girl."

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