Lilly King: Confidence Creates a Star

Photo Courtesy: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports

by Kevin Gill, Swimming World Intern.

Swimming enters the center stage of sports every four years when the Olympics roll around. Whether it is a race separated by one one hundredth of a second or Michael Phelps giving an unforgettable glare, the drama of the Games never disappoints. Swimmers get their chance to become household names for people outside of the swimming world.

This summer, everyone watching the NBC coverage learned quickly who first time Olympian Lilly King was when they saw the finger wagging that occurred in the ready room. Through her ready room antics as well as the interviews afterwards, King made clear her stance on Russian rival Yulia Efimova’s participation at the meet. After serving multiple doping suspensions, Efimova was given permission to compete at the Games in Rio, a decision that was viewed as controversial for many, including King.

Some people admire that King was so vocal about a growing issue in the sport of swimming, while others criticize her brutally honest words. Either way, there has to be some respect for the American breaststroke star for the boldness and confidence she carried throughout the Games.

Those unfamiliar with King would be completely justified in thinking she had been a part of the international stage for many years based on her interviews. Contrary to this belief, the 2016 Olympic Team was the first senior level national team of Kings’s career. Two gold medals later, Lilly King accomplished things in one year that most swimmers can only dream.


Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

With the such a quick rise in the swimming ranks, there is the question of what makes King so much better than her competition. From a technique standpoint, her hand and foot speed is ideal for breaststroke. Her explosiveness and high turnover through the first 50 of the 100 breast cannot be matched. Throw in some great closing speed, as shown by her 2:03:19 NCAA record in the 200 breast, and you have the best breaststroker in the world.

Another major factor that has aided King on this amazing rise over the last year an a half has been her decision to swim for Ray Looze and the Indiana Hoosiers. A Big 10 powerhouse, Indiana has developed into a national threat on over the past few years, partly due to the addition of King.

Looze has proven himself as one of the best in the business by putting three swimmers on the US Olympic team this past summer. Indiana also provides King with an opportunity to train with one of the best male breastrokers in the world, Cody Miller. The two stars shared great success together in Rio and can continue to use each other to improve leading to Tokyo.


Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Aside from her talent and the environment she is in, King’s confidence is the quality that makes her stand apart from the rest of her competition. She exudes confidence and knows exactly how good of swimmer she can be.

In a post Olympic interview, Coach Looze attributed King’s success to her constant self belief. He stressed that her “natural optimism” is what aided her in being so successful on the highest stage. She is one of those athletes who knows that she will not lose and she is always up for a challenge. Her competitive nature and fighting attitude distinguishes her from most of the swimming world.

King is known for being outspoken about her own swimming. Prior to the 100 breaststroke at this year’s NCAA championships, King was vocal about the fact that she was going to be racing herself. Although that was the opinion of many fans, it is uncommon for a swimmer to admit that. Could it be seen as overconfidence? Maybe. But like the doping call out, respect must be given for the confidence which she displays. This open confidence may be the key to what it takes to win on every stage of the sport, like King has done.

King competed in the Arena Pro Swim last week in Atlanta. Although she swam well, it was not her second place world ranking 100 breaststroke or even her solid 2:25 in the 200 breast that caught the attention of the swimming community. In a post race interview, King shared her goals for this summer with the media. World records in the 50 and 100 breast are on King’s mind. She even went as far to say that she wants to be under 1:04. Those are some bold goals.

Typically, elite level swimmers, including Katie Ledecky and Michael Phelps, prefer to keep their specific goals to themselves.

King is so different. She’s not afraid to say whats is on her mind and she constantly gives her honest thoughts. Are those goals realistic for the 20 year old? Her unbelievably quick rise through the swimming ranks makes her potential limitless. With the confidence and fearlessness that she displays in and around the pool deck, she will continue to push the boundaries of what is possible in women’s breaststroke.

All commentaries are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine nor its staff.

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Tedd Van Duyne
7 years ago

Katie Crowley, Danika Ritz, Bridget Camblin, Jacqueline Furfaro, Gabby Braman, Emma Correia, Lindsay Whiting, Alexandra Joy, Emma Whiting, Alivia Braman, Kourtney Stevens, Haley Brown, Tiahna Downing, Maddy Wetmore, Emilena Wilck – Its possible that Lilly King may have lifted a weight or two. Just sayin’…

Aimee Hischke
7 years ago

Kylie Powers

Greg Letzeisen
7 years ago

Great article, rock on, Lilly!

Sheryl Barnicoat Jones

Lilly Rocks!

Jim Richardson
7 years ago

“This open confidence may be the key to what it takes to win on every stage of the sport” While I agree that “open confidence” can help enhance certain peoples’ performance, I do not believe that it is the “key” for everyone. Human performance in sport at the highest level, arguably, is about 80% genetic and 20% nurture (see The Sports Gene by David Epstein). Without the 80% of nature, no amount of confidence will make up for the lack of some giftedness (which the author rightfully cites). You cannot confidently will yourself to be tall….it’s either in your genes or not. Diet, nutrition, coaching, and psychology (“controllables”) do have an effect, but not to the level of moving one from “average” genetic traits to world class level. There are examples of many quiet, humble, team-oriented athletes who have excelled at world class levels (not to say that Lilly is not). While I REALLY enjoy watching Lilly perform, IMHO it would be big mistake for everyone to assume that they must be like her in order to achieve at the highest levels either in sport or in life; as it would be a similar mistake for her to try to behave like someone different from her. Ray and the Indiana staff have done a great job of nurturing Lilly’s talents both in and out of the pool.

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