Finger-Wagging Lilly King Stoking Rivalry with Yulia Efimova

Photo Courtesy: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports


Editorial Coverage Sponsored By FINIS

By David Rieder.

Lilly King and Yulia Efimova have yet to go head-to-head at the Olympics or at all this year—or even at any point since the 19-year-old King began her rapid ascension to the forefront of international breaststroke.

And up until the night before the swimming competition started at the Olympics, it didn’t even appear the two would have a chance to race in Rio.

Efimova had been ruled out of the Olympics two weeks earlier after the release of the McLaren report, which had revealed incriminating details of Russian systematic doping. Any athlete who had previously tested positive was out, and Efimova served a suspension from 2013 to 2015 after testing positive for 7-Keto-DHEA.

But Efimova got back into the Games on a last minute appeals process. During the first two days of the Games, start lists have been continually edited as the seven originally-banned Russian athletes were returned to their lanes. Efimova, the second-fastest swimmer in the world in the 100 breast this year, drew heat 5, lane 6 for the event’s prelims, before which she was thoroughly booed.

In each of the first two rounds of the 100 breast Sunday, Efimova posted the top time so far, and then watched King post a slightly quicker time in the next heat. King was the top seed out of prelims with a 1:05.78, just ahead of Efimova’s 1:05.79. Neither swam much faster in the semifinals, with King clocking in at 1:05.70 and Efimova at 1:05.72.

After her semifinal, Efimova sped through the mixed zone, stopping only to say two words: “After finals.”

King, however, fulfilled all her media obligations, and by the time King reached the section where the American press had set up, she was already the talk of social media in the U.S. after NBC cameras caught King wagging her finger at the television in the ready room as she saw Efimova finish.

King gave the entire backstory.

“This morning, I got done with my finish, and I kind of waved my finger a little bit, number one—because that’s kind of how I am,” King said. “Just now, Yulia got done with her swim, and she starts shaking her finger. So I look at the TV, and I start shaking my finger. I got done, and I beat her time, and I started shaking my finger again.”

The world interpreted King’s take on NBA Hall of Famer Dikembe Mutombo’s signature gesture as calling out Efimova for her doping history. Was it?

“I don’t mind if I am stirring it up,” King said. “That’s just my personality. I’m not the sweet little girl—that’s not who I am. If I do need to stir it up to put a fire under my butt or anyone else’s, that’s what I’m going to do.

Even as she tried to skirt the issue of doping, King made abundantly clear that she’s not on board with doping in swimming, and that she believes Efimova deserves to deal with the consequences of her record.

“It is unfortunate that that’s going on in the sport right now,” she said. “It was the IOC’s decision [to allow Efimova to compete], and I’m going to respect that decision, even if it’s something I don’t agree with.”

Of course, with King preparing to swim the biggest race of her life tonight, she naturally hopes to avoid any distractions from the task at hand. But she sees the Efimova situation as motivating, and she knows exactly what will be coming at her in the final.

In swimming almost identical times in the semis, King went out in 30.69 and came home in 35.01. Then there was Efimova, out in 31.86 and back in a ridiculous 33.86.

King knows exactly what will be going on behind her in the final, but she won’t concern herself with anything out of her own control.

“I’m just going to stick to my race plan,” King said. “I know that I have a great last 25. Hopefully get ahead, stay ahead—that’s always been my tactic, so hopefully it works out.”

King currently ranks first in the world at 1:05.20, a half-second ahead of second-ranked Efimova (1:05.70). But Efimova seems to have something left in the tank, and defending gold medalist and world record-holder Ruta Meilutyte will be looming in lane six.

“I want to go a 1:04,” King said. “Felt pretty good [in the semifinal], so 1:04 is definitely in the tank for tomorrow. That’s what I’m looking for.”

Don’t be surprised if it takes something that fast to win gold.




  1. Joe Myhre

    A little too cocky in my opinion

    • Heather York DiFulvio

      She did last night – she finger-wagged when Efimova won heat 1 and then went out and beat her time. She is going into the finals in the lead. That backs up that, but hopefully, she can keep her at bay tonight, where Efimova might have something to prove.

  2. Lisa Ward

    I’m glad drug cheats are being called out by their competitors.

    • Tammy Lee

      Exactly. Since Fina and IOC do nothing, maybe be called out publicly by their peers will make them think twice. But then again, cheaters have no conscience.

    • Peter Scott

      Yes the IOC and FINA abdicating their responsibility and thus the athletes have to highlight the problems.

  3. Sarah DeBuse Nelson

    Good for her for calling her out! How she even won the appeal is beyond me.

  4. Diane Pavelin

    The fact Efimova and others are allowed to compete shows the IOC and sport governing bodies have learned nothing since 1976 and the East German doping. They all need to watch “The Last Gold” to see how it affects those athletes who compete against cheaters.

    They need to act forcefully against state-sponsored doping, instead of continuing to bury their heads in the sand and act as if the problem will go away on its own. It’s been 40 years since that Olympics, and it’s still here.

    • Denise Connolly

      I totally agree Diane! I watched that excellent documentary and think all would think differently if they watched it.

  5. avatar
    Brent Rutemiller

    Nice Article David!

  6. Michael Pringle

    IOC are gutless bureaucrats. There should be none of these Russian cheaters competing in this Olympics.

  7. Linda Engledow

    Good! Russia throws this drug testing, (twice, no less) forgiveness from Olympic Committee in our faces…If it was the USA, they would have thrown our athletes out!!!

  8. Mariana Vayanas

    Loved that she pointed and giggled ?? How do you dope and swim?!!! Upsetting and horrible role model ?

  9. Peter Scott

    Unfortunately it has to be the athletes calling out the drug cheats. It is the JOB of IOC and FINA to do this and all you hear is silence from them …drowned out by the boos when a drug cheat competes. Not only 4 place is cheated out of a medal. 9th was cheated out of a place in the final. 17th place cheated out of a place in the semi final!…. all clean athletes and supporters cheated out of a clean sport!!!! Curtesy of The IOC and FINA!

  10. Danil Koval

    What are you talking about? All athletes are cheaters….but America hides it better! Yuliya is the best!

    • Pamela Goldsbro

      Idiot. Or just another brainwashed Russian.

  11. Manfred Widmann

    Wenn jemand eine Doperin schlägt … was sagt uns das? Entweder Doping ist für A & F oder Lilly doped besser!