Is There Animosity Between Yulia Efimova and Lilly King Anymore?

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

It has become one of the most famous rivalries in the world of swimming. Lilly King and Yulia Efimova have been the two best breaststrokers in the world since the 2016 Olympic Games and have been the subject of an intense “rivalry” that started at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio.

King famously wagged her finger at Efimova in the ready room after the latter put up a No. 1 finger after she won her semi-final in Rio. After King’s semi-final race, she said she did it because she didn’t like that the Russian had been caught twice for doping offenses and was shaking her finger No. 1.

After that, the two have been the subject of one of the biggest rivalries in the sport.

The two squared off on Friday at the FINA Champions Series in Indianapolis with King taking wins over Efimova in both the 50 and 200 breast. King swam a 29.63 in the 50 breast to Efimova’s 29.93. In the 200, King lowered her best time with a 2:21.39 to run down Efimova, who was second at 2:21.59. It was the first time King ever beat Efimova in a head to head 200 as they now sit second and third in the world rankings for 2019 behind Annie Lazor’s 2:20.72 from the Bloomington Pro Series two weeks ago.

It was the first time the two have squared off since the 2017 Worlds when King took down the 100 world record and Efimova settled for the bronze.

But a lot has happened since then. King is now 22 and has entered the world of professional swimming. Efimova is 27 and is approaching her fourth Olympic Games if she can qualify next summer. The two are still at the top of the world rankings for 2019 and are going to be the favorites for the gold medal again this summer at the World Championships in Gwangju, and next summer at the Olympics as well.

But is there animosity between the two now?

“I mean it was three years ago. I was 19 and I didn’t know what was going on,” King said after the 50 breast in Indianapolis. “It’s easier to get along. Obviously, I don’t like what she did and she doesn’t like what I did but at some point we have to grow up and move on, and we’re going to race each other a lot more now. It’s a lot less tense in the ready room now.”

“It’s more about media. I don’t know why it’s always like a red flag for all the media,” Efimova said after the session. “We’ve raced a couple more times and we’re talking and it’s like, ‘Ok it’s not that bad.’ It’s getting better.”

Efimova swam at the second stop of the FINA Champions Series in Budapest and was especially looking forward to Indianapolis because she wanted another opportunity to race King.

“The only reason I came here was because I’m pretty sure Lilly was going to be here and I like racing her. It’s always fun to race with her,” she said.

The 200 breast was easily the loudest race of the night as King, who lives and trains an hour away in Bloomington, was racing in front of a home crowd.

“I always love coming to race at the Nat. I know I have a lot of kids watching me like I did when I was younger when there were big meets here, too,” she said.

King credited the crowd and the familiarity of the pool for pushing her to go a 2:21, saying she has only ever been a 2:21 in this pool.

“It’s really easy to swim fast at home because you don’t have to travel,” King said. “I know this pool and the walls and the blocks like the back of my hand so it makes it easier to swim faster.”

Efimova was also satisfied with how she swam, scoring a season best. “I didn’t expect (King) to swim that fast,” Efimova said. “It’s not my best time but it’s better than (Champions Series) Budapest.”

Efimova and King seemed to have warmed up to each other since the Olympics in Rio.

The two of them were on a relay together at the end of the session. All of the athletes that wanted to be a part of the mixed relays at the end of the session were randomly assigned to teams. King and Efimova were selected to be on the same freestyle relay.

King laughed it off after her 50 breast, saying she was just hoping the team would break 4:00. The relay was Efimova and King plus fellow breaststroker Josh Prenot and butterflyer Zach Harting. The team did break 4:00 but finished fourth out of four teams at 3:39.13.

King and Efimova will go head-to-head in the 100 breast on Saturday in Indianapolis. Even if there is no ill-will between the two, it certainly makes for a fun matchup and great racing.

Clearly the two bring out the best in each other in the pool.

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick 

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