Natalie Coughlin checks the times after a semifinal heat. (Al Bello / Getty Images )
OMAHA -- The kids had the kick. They kicked aside Natalie Coughlin, and one of the most decorated swimmers in American history is in danger of not making the Olympic team.
Coughlin led Wednesday's 100 backstroke final at the halfway mark, but teenagers Missy Franklin and Rachel Bootsma passed her. Franklin and Bootsma are bound for London, and the woman who has won 11 Olympic medals in 11 tries might be bound for summer vacation.
"I'm a little bummed, but not nearly as much as people are expecting me to be," Coughlin said. "I'm walking around the pool deck, and people think I'm dying."
Coughlin, 29, hugged the newest Olympians, then all the other competitors, then waved to an adoring crowd at the U.S. Olympic trials. She finished third — missing an Olympic spot by less than two-tenths of a second — and now a rebound in the 100 freestyle could be her last hope for London.
"Of course, it entered my mind," Bootsma said. "She's Natalie Coughlin. She's the most amazing female swimmer ever."
Franklin, who broke Coughlin's American record in the event, is her heir apparent as America's top female swimmer.
"I don't think I'm ready for Natalie to go," Franklin said.
Not so golden
Katie Hoff was supposed to be swimming's golden girl four years ago. She won five events at the Olympic trials, but she won no gold medals in the Olympics.
This year, she might not even get there.
On Tuesday, she failed to qualify for the semifinals in the 400 freestyle, an event in which she holds the American record. On Wednesday, she failed to qualify in the 200 freestyle. Her time ranked 20th in both events, with the top 16 advancing to the semifinals.
She has been hampered by what she said was a stomach virus.
"I felt better today," she said. "I was actually able to eat today. But I just didn't have it.
"I don't want to make excuses for anything. It just wasn't there."
She said she did not know whether she would try another event — most likely the 800 freestyle, in which qualifying does not take place until Saturday.
Everybody in the pool
No world records have been set through the first three days of the trials, and U.S. men's national Coach Gregg Troy attributed the lack of records in part to the jumbo-sized field of entrants.
With more than 1,800 participants competing for about 50 spots, the trials feature heat after heat packed with swimmers with no chance of making the team. USA Swimming executives have defended the large field, citing the chance for so many swimmers and their families to make a memory, but Troy suggested the size of the field was unwieldy.
Top swimmers are used to competing in preliminaries in the morning and finals in the evening, with a nap in between. On the first two days of the trials, morning preliminaries extended well into the afternoon.
"We let the meet get out of hand," Troy said. "I think it's affecting performance at the top."
The Colorado Springs wildfires are foremost on the minds of officials with USA Swimming, which has its headquarters in that city. Chuck Wielgus, executive director of USA Swimming, said he had gotten this two-word report from U.S. Olympic Committee Chief Executive Scott Blackmun: "It's apocalyptic."
Wielgus said he has told all of the approximately 45 staffers here from Colorado that they can return home simply by asking. He said three staffers returned home Wednesday. Large sections of Colorado Springs were under evacuation orders.