American Katie Hoff goes into the Beijing Games four years older and four years removed from her first Olympic experience in Athens when she was just 15 years old.  VOA's Chris Cox has the story on the maturation and expectations for 19-year-old swimming star at the upcoming Olympic Games.

At age 15, swimmer Katie Hoff was the youngest athlete on the entire United States team at the 2004 Athens Olympics.  Her age, mixed with her lack of international experience, made for a rather uneventful Games, as she placed seventh in the 200-meter individual medley (IM) and 17th in the 400-meter IM.

But since her less than stellar showing in Athens, Hoff's swimming career has boomed.  She currently owns the world record in the 400-meter IM and in the 800-meter freestyle.  She also owns several American swimming records.

But to Hoff, gold medals are more important than world records.

"Yeah, I mean world records are awesome but I think at the Olympic games it's more about racing hard and putting your hand on the wall first because, you know, a gold medal no one can take away from you, but a world record someone can," said Katie Hoff. "So, especially at the Olympic Games you want a gold medal."

The 19 year-old Hoff will have plenty of chances to claim a gold medal, as she was the women's star at the U.S. swim trials and will have six races on her Olympic schedule.  Hoff will compete in the 200-, 400-, and 800-meter freestyle races, the 200- and 400-meter individual medley races, and she is on the four-by-200-meter freestyle relay team.

To go along with her natural swimming ability, Hoff does have the athletic gene in her.  Hoff's mother, Jeanne, was a basketball player at Stanford University in California and is the school's fourth all-time leading scorer.  But Katie Hoff told VOA Sports that her parents never pushed her to be a world class athlete.

"My parents have been great," she said. "They kind of let this be my own thing.  They don't pressure me or anything.  When I was little they would always say, 'if you want to quit tomorrow, you can.  We're not pressuring you to do this.'  But I obviously I didn't want to and they were there to support me.  My coaches along the way have been just great in supporting me and pushing me to be my best."

One way Hoff's parents showed their support for her was teaching her at home.  Hoff told VOA about the benefits of being home schooled.

"It's been great," said Hoff. "I'm actually done with all my high school requirements, which is nice.  I finished right before I went to worlds [world championships in Melbourne in March].  Along the way it's been awesome because I don't have to stay up really late to finish a paper or miss a swim meet because I have a huge test.  So that part has allowed me to work my school around my swimming."

Shortly after the Beijing Olympics, Katie Hoff will begin college at Loyola University in Baltimore, Maryland.  Although she will not be able to swim for the Loyola team because she forfeited her college eligibility when she signed various endorsement deals, she will serve as an assistant coach for the swim team.

Hoff will stay at home in Baltimore to continue training with her coach Paul Yetter and the North Baltimore Aquatic Club (NBAC).  Hoff and Yetter will also be joined by Hoff's former club teammate, eight-time Olympic medalist Michael Phelps, and his coach Bob Bowman.