Lilly King and Yulia Efimova Finger-Wagging Again—With a Twist

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By David Rieder.

From the moment television cameras caught Lilly King wagging her finger at a shot of Yulia Efimova during the Olympic Games, the rivalry between the two has been on.

King, after qualifying ahead of Efimova for the women’s 100 breast final in Rio, told the world why she didn’t think Efimova deserved to be competing at the Olympics considering her history of testing positive for banned substances. And she backed up that talk the next day, holding off Efimova down the stretch to earn her first Olympic gold medal.

One year later at the World Championships in Budapest, the rivalry has been ratcheted up a notch. Neither one has spoken any incendiary words about the other, but their efforts in the pool have already far eclipsed anything either woman put up last season.

In Monday night’s semi-finals, Efimova dealt the first blow. Swimming in the first of two semi-final heats, she blasted a lightning-quick 33.67 split on the second 50 and came into the wall in 1:04.36, just one hundredth shy of Ruta Meilutyte’s four-year-old world record.

Efimova turned to check the scoreboard, and a huge smile crossed her face. She jubilantly raised her index finger and wagged it. King, watching in the ready room, took note.

“I’m always looking at results from the heat before, and I saw the little finger wag,” King said. “I saw it.”

Going off in the second heat, King went out in 29.90, under world-record pace, and faded only slightly down the stretch, coming into the wall in 1:04.53—her lifetime best time and four tenths faster than she swam on her way to Olympic gold last year.

King nodded her head and smiled, even with the night’s events setting her up as a decided underdog for the final.

“I went a best time by about a half-second—does that explain it?” King said. “Felt pretty good. I think I’ve got something left in the tank. Haven’t shaved yet, so I think we’re going to be good for tomorrow.”

Efimova had nothing to say to the media after her race. As she walked through the mixed zone, a FINA representative asked her to stop for comment. She responded with one word: “Tomorrow.”

With King seemingly having more in the tank with a shave-down to come and Efimova having already been just one hundredth off the world record, the dual for gold seems set. But what if it’s not just a two-woman showdown? What if there was someone else who has swum that fast one lane over?

Well, there will be: Meilutyte. The 20-year-old from Lithuania was a non-factor in the Olympic final, finishing seventh, but she won Olympic gold in the event as a 15-year-old, and one year later, she won a World title in the 100 breasts after establishing the still-standing world record in the semi-final.

In Monday’s semi-finals in Budapest, she got as close to her top form as she has in years. As King swam her way to the sixth-fastest mark in history in semi-final No. 2, Meilutyte was right on her heels, and she finished in 1:05.06.

After how far out of contention she fell last year, it felt all the sweeter for Meilutyte to put up a time so close to her best, to be right back in the mix.

“I always believed in myself,” she said. “I think in Rio wasn’t my full potential, and I think I am yet to be at my peak. I never really doubted myself—obviously it wasn’t easy—so I am very happy.”

In the final, all the attention will rightfully be on the two swimmers in the middle lanes, Efimova and King, but it would be unwise to count out someone who has at one time been quicker than either of them ever have and is still just 20—the same age as King, who only emerged as an international force last year, and five years younger than Efimova.

When King was asked after her semi-final swim what it would take to win gold in the final, she responded, “Faster.” Maybe, but don’t be shocked if the world record chase takes a back seat to what’s sure to be a hyper-intense race for gold.

King stepped up to the plate last year and took the crown, but Efimova has swum some of the best races of her career so far in 2017. Meilutyte looms as a dark horse, as does American Katie Meili, who swam a lifetime best time of 1:05.48 to qualify fourth. It shapes up to be the fastest women’s 100 breast final in history.

When it’s all over, expect to see one of two women wagging their finger again. Whoever that is will look straight ahead, not at the other. But will it be Efimova turning the tables, or can King come through again?

17 comments

  1. Irina Shikina

    King es una impresentable. Y mala nadadora.

  2. avatar
    Paul Windrath

    What happened to good sportrsmanship? The governing bodies of both countries ought to jerk their chains. This behavior makes us look like ugly Americans -shades of Gary Hall, Jr’s behavior.

    • avatar
      RC

      Kings comments are directed at Efimovas doping past. Nothing else. That makes it completely alright in my book.

    • avatar
      jim

      I don’t think you understand the American mindset. Sure a lot of people think that Americans are arrogant, but look at our history. We didn’t even want to get into World War 2. It wasn’t until the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor before we decided enough was enough. We didn’t start WW2, but we helped end it. Go to American icon movies like Rocky. Ivan Draggo basically kills Rocky’s friend in a supposedly friendly boxing match…Rocky’s pissed, comes after Drago, and beats him…in the soviet union no less. Point being, as Americans we try to do our best, but give us bulletin board material, and we’ll use it to best whoever gave it to us.

  3. Brett Davies

    Hopefully King I do not think that its fair for Efimova to even be competing . She is a proven cheat

    • Suzie Thompson

      Sorry Brett, I think you are missing the point. This is bullying at its finest elite form.
      Both of these women are spoiled, bad mannered, chi-dults. I’ve been connected to the sport for over 40 years. These women need to be trained in integrity.

    • Julie Bryan

      I really hope Ruta pulls a blinder . She has come back from her elbow surgery and it would be brilliant to see.

    • Brett Davies

      Suzie I am an ex swimmer myself and you do not get the point I am not talking about their behaviour which is childish and I agree with you on thst point I am talking about drugs which in mybopinion do not have any place in the sport Efimova was caught twice and they were pretty lenient on her.

    • Suzie Thompson

      I get that but it is no different than any other sport.
      Cheating is cheating.
      It’s all politics and rules and money.
      The list is long of banned substances including some actual healing drugs.
      Depending on when they get on the list and or included.
      And right fool me once shame on you fool me twice shame on me.
      The rest of it all adds in. And see the people that should win will and karma biscuits for the others!

  4. Emily Turner

    Becky Turner this is so intense

  5. Suzie Thompson

    Being proven as a cheat can be a karmic event.
    Class is learned behavior.
    Talent is not a given and there is more to being a champion than being fast or the best in the world.
    The world we live in and the media/politics/sports entertainment industry need to train with the everyswimmer.

    • avatar

      THEY ARE MILLENNIALS…….you cannot change what the WORLD has allowed to HAPPEN….just saying

  6. Regina Clavin

    Athletes using banned substances lose the respect of many. Cheering for Lilly all the way.

  7. Karl Holleworth

    I never could have imagined I would be excited for a 100 breast final !! But I am 🙂

  8. Rich Davis

    What’s happening to sports when Efimova and Sun Yang are both competing? After the debacle of East Germany in the 70’s and 80’s I’d hope these people would disappear for ever.