The news out of Germany is that J‚Äö√†√∂‚Äö√†√árg Hoffmann, the world champion in the 1,500-meter freestyle, was dreadful in the country's Olympic swim trials, dog-paddling his way to a 15:15.93 clocking—25.57 seconds off his best time. In the 400 he failed to qualify altogether. Washed up at 22?
"He's playing possum," says John Carew, the coach of 18-year-old Kieren Perkins, Australia's latest superfish, who has had experience with Hoffmann's gamesmanship.
Hoffmann is a 6'7" aspiring architect from Potsdam who is clearly very impressed with himself. A typical Hoffmannism: "I always ask myself where others find the courage to swim against me." In January 1991, after he arrived in Perth for the world championships, Hoffmann was told that Perkins and his teammate Glen Housman had swum under 15 minutes in the 1,500. Hoffmann suggested that the times had been fabricated. Then he collided with Perkins during warmups—"his hip hit my elbow," says Perkins—in what the Australians saw as an attempt to psych out Perkins.
In the Perth 1,500 Perkins touched in 14:50.58—a whopping 4.14 seconds faster than the old world record, but .22 of a second slower than the new one, which had just been set in an adjacent lane by Hoffman. After the race Hoffmann flipped the crowd the bird.
Poor turns cost Perkins that race. "If it was a straight 1,500-meter pool, I'd probably have beaten him by 30 seconds," he says. Perkins has since improved his turns: He broke Hoffmann's record by 1.96 seconds on April 5. He has also set long-course world records in the 400 and 800.
For his part Hoffmann has yet to swim as fast as he did in Perth. Why the letdown? "Nothing much happened after Perth," says Hoffmann. "It was easy to reach the point where I took it easy. Perkins gave me new motivation."
Perkins to Hoffmann: It's mutual.
ALAIN COLTIER/SYDNEY FREELANCE