How Annie Lazor & Lilly King Pushed Each Other to be the Best Breaststrokers They Could Be

Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

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How Annie Lazor & Lilly King Pushed Each Other to be the Best Breaststrokers They Could Be

When Annie Lazor and Lilly King stepped onto the blocks at the United States Olympic Trials in the 200 breaststroke, King looked at Lazor and said “I love you. Now let’s go do this.” When they finished 1-2 at the end of the race, they looked at each across the lane lines and immediately embraced. “We did it.”

The race was the culmination of years of hard work the two endured while training together at Indiana University since late 2017.

Lazor joined the Indiana postgrad team a few months after Lilly King set the breaststroke world aflame with world records in the 50 and 100 distances at the 2017 World Championships. In 2017, Lazor was just getting back in shape, having retired after the 2016 Olympic Trials to pursue a life after swimming. She didn’t completely leave the pool deck, however, serving as an operations intern with the men’s swim team at Cal Berkeley. But after feeling a sense of loss, she decided to give the sport one more shot. A desk job could wait, but there was a limited window for her to be a world-class swimmer.

Much has been made about Lazor’s inspirational story, including making the Olympic team in her first swim meet since her dad unexpectedly passed away. Many fans tabbed Lazor’s 200 breaststroke win at Trials as their favorite moment of the U.S. Olympic Trials.

“I just see it as something that happened to me, and sure it looks like a very inspirational story and it probably is, but the thing that probably hits closest to home for me is that I hope it touches someone else who has been through what I went through,” Lazor said of being a source of inspiration for people.

“The thing I have taken in the most the last few months is the community of people that have been through what I went through the last couple months who are my age and are a little bit further ahead of me in the grieving process. So to be able to represent those people and show everyone that you can still accomplish great things while grieving a loss or going through a hard time, I hope I can be that representation for those people.”

With a Little Help From My Friends


Lilly King. Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Lilly King has been the best breaststroker in the world since Lazor joined her in Bloomington four years ago. King is the two-time reigning world champ in the 100 breast, and is looking to be the first woman to defend an Olympic gold medal in the 100 in two weeks in Tokyo. Many expected Lazor to get the second spot in the 100 behind King, but 17-year-old Lydia Jacoby earned that spot, with Lazor third.

“It’s a big bummer because I had the swim of my life in the 100 breast but I just ended up being third in the world to two people from my country so that was a really tough pill to swallow,” Lazor said. “Especially with the year being postponed, I thought I was set up to make the team this time last year in both breaststroke events, but that is the name of the game.”

“Yeah, welcome to the U.S. Olympic Trials,” King said of the deep 100 breast field. “We have several events where that is the case. The 100 breast, we had four of the top six in the world, so there are a lot of really fast people that are not going to the Olympics. I think the 200 is definitely (Lazor’s) strength and being able to focus on that is going to be great. I know she would love to compete in that 100 but she is a gold-medal contender in the 200 breaststroke so being able to focus on that is going to be really great I think.”

King and Lazor will both be medal favorites in the 200 breast, which looks to be wide open. The two-time reigning world champ Yulia Efimova did not qualify for Russia, while only one finalist from Rio – Great Britain’s Molly Renshaw – will be back on the start lists in Tokyo.

King has raced the 200 at the last three major international meets, but has yet to reach the podium. In Rio, she didn’t advance past the semifinals, and in Budapest at the 2017 Worlds, she finished fourth. At the 2019 Worlds, King was disqualified in the heats.


Annie Lazor. Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

“I am a little more nervous for the 200 but that is every meet,” King said. “I am ready to go and ready to prove myself in that 200. Five years ago I watched that final from the stands and that’s not going to happen this time. I am just excited to have the race I know I can have.”

Lazor was the Pan American Games gold medalist in 2019 in both the 100 and the 200, but had never swum in an Olympics or World Championships.

Regardless of the lack of international accolades, King and Lazor both know they can push each other to the top.

“I see how hard she works and she sees me doing the exact same work so I know how much she deserves it and I hope she feels the same way about me,” Lazor said. “To see her swim so well at Trials and get all the accolades she deserves, she works for those and I see it every single day. We have a great dynamic. I think it is really helpful that she trends more to the 50 and the 100 and I trend more for the 200 so I think that helps the dynamic of the competitive relationship. But at the end of the day again, I push her every day, she pushes me every day, and so to see her hard work pay off, I am genuinely happy for her.”

“Annie and I can strategize races together which is something we kind of did at Trials,” King said. “It’s fun. I’ve never been at a major international meet with a teammate in my event so it’s very special and I’m going to live in the moment and I am excited to race.”

A 1-2 Punch

With two weeks to go until the 200 breast final in Tokyo, King and Lazor’s main focus for the training camp in Hawaii has been fine-tuning their race plans so they are sharp and ready to go when they step up on the blocks in Japan.


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

“My 200 has been great with the training I am doing now so it’s a ‘why fix it if it’s not broken?'” Lazor said of maintaining her training approach. “I do think there is some value in training speed. In my 200, my strength is the back half of the race so if we can improve the front half and keep the back half the same, then it is a pretty good combination for a good swim.

“I can focus on the 200 and it is my best and most fun event and it is the one I am most confident in.”

“I think we are set up to have a good meet,” King said. “Obviously Trials is great and you go in to make the team and for most people you have to be all in at Trials. For me that’s not necessarily the case, my focus has always been the Olympics and I can get through Trials and get the job done. The real show is going to be at the Olympics so that is where my focus is.”

King is the heavy favorite in the shorter sprint. Only one woman has ever won both the 100 and 200 at the same Games – South Africa’s Penny Heyns in 1996. If King can achieve that feat, she would put herself in the discussion as the greatest female breaststroker of all-time.

Lazor is ranked third in the world in the 200 breast, while King is ranked sixth. Both of them making the podium is not inconceivable, and a 1-2 finish is certainly within the realm of possibility if they can each put together the right race. It is something that would be the perfect outcome.

“I like to think of it as we do want to beat the crap out of each other but we don’t want anyone else to beat either one of us,” King said. “We want to be 1-2 but we just want to be the 1 and not the 2.”

“One thing I love so much about (Indiana) is that we all genuinely want each other to do well and succeed because this is one of the hardest places to train in the world,” Lazor said. “(Lilly) has pushed me every single day to be the athlete that I am today physically in the water and I hope she feels the same way, too.”

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