Annie Lazor Makes Dream Come True With 200 Breast Olympic Berth; King Joins With Breast Double

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Five years after initially retiring after the 2016 Olympic Trials, 26-year-old Annie Lazor secured her first ever Olympic berth on Friday night in the 200 breaststroke with a 2:21.07, which put her third in the world for 2021.

Lazor finished ahead of her Indiana teammate Lilly King (2:21.75), who already won the 100 breast earlier in the meet and will be off to Tokyo to try and get on her first international medal stand in the 200. King has been the top sprint breaststroker in the world since 2016, and has swum the 200 internationally at every meet since 2016, but has yet to get on the podium. In 2016, she was 12th in Rio. In 2017, she was fourth at the Worlds in Budapest, and in 2019 she was disqualified in the prelims at Worlds where she looked to have had her best shot to win the gold medal. Now, she sits sixth in the world as the race looks wide open come Tokyo in five weeks.

Lilly King set the pace early, turning under world record pace at the 50 with a 31.66, and in the lead at the 100 at 1:08.18. It seemed King needed a bigger lead on the likes of Lazor, Emily Escobedo and Bethany Galat, who have been known to have stronger back halves than the sprint specialist King. At the halfway point, Escobedo (1:08.61) was in second and Galat (1:08.68) was in third. Lazor was holding her own in fourth at 1:08.68 and it would come down to these four to make the team, with 2018 national champ and 2012 Olympic finalist Micah Sumrall in fifth at 1:09.51.

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Lilly King. Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

On the third 50, Lazor pressed on the gas, splitting a 35.97 to take the lead at 1:44.87, her split a half second ahead of the rest of the field. King was in second at 1:45.20, but her 37.02 was allowing Galat (36.56) and Escobedo (36.78) to close the gap. As the field turned for home with spots to the Olympics on the line, Galat was 0.04 behind King in third (1:45.24) and Escobedo was fourth at 1:45.39. Galat, the 2017 Worlds bronze medalist, and Escobedo, the 2019 World University Games silver medalist, looked poised to pull the upset of the meet and knock King out of the 200.

But on the final 50, Lazor and King powered to the finish as the two teammates at Indiana University both split under 37 seconds with Lazor coming home in 36.20 and King in 36.55. Escobedo (37.25) and Galat (37.57) did not have it in the cards tonight as Lazor touched first in 2:21.07 and King in second at 2:21.75. The two Hoosier teammates were off to the Olympic Games.

“It sounds amazing,” Annie Lazor said of being an Olympian. “I just wanted to do it for my family. I wanted to give them something to be excited about. To see them in the stands and having Lilly next to me, who’s like my family, I can’t put it into words. It’s unreal.”

“That’s probably the most excited I’ve been after one of those races,” King said. “It’s just a really, really special moment between the two of us. We’ve been through hell and back together, even the last three, four years. Just seeing someone make their first Olympic team who’s been there every single day with you training and fighting and everything we’ve done together and seeing that pay off for you, that’s just so, so awesome. “

Lazor’s Journey

Annie Lazor initially walked away from the sport after the 2016 Trials, where she was seventh in the Trials final in the 200. That year she graduated from Auburn and professional swimming didn’t seem like an option, so she took a job at Cal Berkeley as an operations intern with men’s swimming and beach volleyball. Her career didn’t finish the way she wanted at Auburn, but she believed that it just wasn’t meant to be, and she walked away from it.

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Annie Lazor realizes her Olympic dream. Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

“I was really frustrated and thought I needed that time and didn’t set a time for me to come back and didn’t really think I was going to come back,” Lazor said.

But in 2017, she was starting to miss the sport. A desk job could be hers for her entire life, but being a swimmer wasn’t going to be an option forever. She didn’t want to look back in five or ten years down the road and regret leaving. So she decided to try it out at Indiana University, which at the time had the top breaststroker in the United States – Lilly King, and head coach Ray Looze wanted her approval to have Lazor come and train with the breaststroke group.

“For her to accept a competitor into her training environment speaks about the kind of competitor she is,” Lazor said.

And on Friday night in Omaha, for Lazor to realize her Olympic dream with King in the second spot behind her – it meant that much more.

“She has been there for me in ways I can’t even describe. Words kind of fall short to be quite honest. But you know what? She is my family outside my family and the people I train with every day are my family. The last few months from me have been far from easy, but she has dragged me through the mud and pushed me every day and distracted me. Before we got up for the 200 breast, she told me she loved me and ‘let’s just do this!’ That was all I needed to hear.”

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Annie Lazor and Lilly King. Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Lazor showed lots of perseverance after coming into the meet as a big favorite to make the team in the 100 breast, before ultimately falling third.

“Right after I got third, I felt bad for a second because I wanted her to be able to celebrate the fact that she just made her second Olympic team and has been so dominate in that race over the last five years, but I could tell she was torn between wanting to celebrate and be heart broken with me, so I felt bad that she felt like she had to pull her heart in two different ways.

“After that, her confidence never faded in me. I had a great race. I just got beat by the two fastest times in the world; that’s all that happened. I didn’t lose any confidence in what I was going to do in the 200 and neither did she. To have one of the most confident swimmers in the world say that to you is incredible.”

Lazor’s father passed away earlier this year, and this was her first swim meet since his death.

“It’s still hard to put into words – still such a shock for me and my family. One thing it’s taught me is that the people that are close to me mean more to me now than ever. The people who are there for you and reach out to you in your highest of highs but especially in your lowest of lows, words fall short on how much it really means.

“It’s unbelievable the amount of love that you see from people who will literally drop anything for you in that time of despair.”

Lazor, who is on her first Olympic team at age 26, was applauded by her fellow teammates on the Olympic team for her courage. 200 back champ Ryan Murphy, who shared a press conference with Lazor, wasn’t even asked about her but offered plaudits to her efforts in the 200 breaststroke.

“She worked at Cal in 2016 and 2017, and made a big impact on our program,” Murphy said. “She deserves it more than anyone. She is going to be a great leader for Team USA.”

Results:

  1. Annie Lazor, 2:21.07
  2. Lilly King, 2:21.75
  3. Emily Escobedo, 2:22.64
  4. Bethany Galat, 2:22.81
  5. Ella Nelson, 2:25.10
  6. Micah Sumrall, 2:26.78
  7. Allie Raab, 2:27.47
  8. Rachel Bernhardt, 2:29.57

2021 World Rankings (Tokyo Qualifiers)

  1. 2:20.17, Tatjana Schoenmaker, RSA
  2. 2:20.89, Molly Renshaw, GBR
  3. 2:21.07, Annie Lazor, USA
  4. 2:21.63, Evgeniia Chikunova, RUS
  5. 2:21.69, Abbie Wood, GBR
  6. 2:21.75, Lilly King, USA
  7. 2:22.05, Lisa Mamie, SUI
  8. 2:22.76, Mariia Temnikova, RUS
  9. 2:23.04, Kanako Watanabe, JPN
  10. 2:23.12, Jenna Strauch, AUS

2 comments

  1. Nancy Maxwell

    Way to Go Hoosiers!!! Annie & Lilly!!! ❤️❤️??‍♀️??‍♀️