Katie Hoff's ambitious six-event programme came to an end tonight when the American fell shy of a place in the final of the 800m freestyle. The 19-year-old who arrived with the burden of having been dubbed "the female Phelps" because of her multi-event programme, finished 11th in the heats, which were led by Olympic 400m champion Rebecca Adlington (GBR), in an Olympic record of 8:18.06.
Hoff and the US team have played down the swimmer's inability to find the alchemy required to celebrate gold. Two bronzes in the 400m events and a bronze in the 4x200m free topped two fourth places, in the 200m freestyle and 200m medley. By the time the 800m rolled round, Hoff looked exhausted.
US women's head coach Jack Bauerle defended Hoff's punishing programme, insisting the teenager had not taken on too much. "She's the best girl we have, in all her events," Bauerle said. "I don't agree with the biting off more than she can chew part. If you wanted to take her out of a race, which one would you drop?"
Comparison with Phelps was unfair, said Bauerle. Quite so. With ribbons and bows. Hoff did look to have a chance of something better than three bronze medals but that tally would be something to celebrate for many nations at this meet.
"No one should be linked to Michael," Bauerle said. "Katie is a great swimmer in her own right, but she's Katie Hoff."
US-based Zimbabwean Kirsty Coventry, winner of three silver medals, empathised with Hoff's predicament. "My heart goes out to Katie, she is an awesome girl and we race each other a lot in the States. The Olympics, it's not like Wimbledon or a PGA, it comes around once in four years."
Hoff, who opted not to stop and chat with the assembled US media on her way from the pool after the 800m, learned lessons as a 15-year-old at Athens 2004 and would learn again, Coventry predicted. "She is so young and is such a great ambassador for her sport that she will go onto great things."