World Championships: Lilly King Uses Last 50 to Top Jenna Strauch in 200 Breast

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World Championships: Lilly King Uses Last 50 to Top Jenna Strauch in 200 Breast

If we concede that Lilly King is the old dog of the women’s breaststroke field, she’s certainly capable of learning new tricks.

King won her ninth World Championships gold medal Thursday and her first in the 200 breast, sprinting from fifth to first over the final 50 meters to finish in 2:22.41 at the 2022 FINA World Championships in Budapest.

Fellow American Kate Douglass picked up bronze, with Australian Jenna Strauch in between.

The unquestioned queen of the 100 breaststroke, King has had a smattering of success (by her stratospheric standards) in the 200. When that’s happened, it been because King has brandished the front-end speed that few female breaststrokers ever could manage and hung on as the field closed on her.

Thursday, in an event she has worked immensely hard on in recent years, the 25-year-old was first in after 50 meters. But she got reeled in by the field, third at 100 meters and fifth at 150. By the old King paradigm, you would think her gold chances were over.

But this newer version unleashed a hellish final 50 meters – 36.36 coming home, the fastest in the field by nine-tenths. Strauch was 37.31 over the final 50, Douglass 37.64.

“I guess I’m a distance swimmer now,” King quipped on the broadcast, “so that kind of stinks.”

King has always been viewed as a 100 breaststroke specialist.  She won the Olympic title in 2016 in the 100, missing the final in the 200. She was a favorite in the 100 before getting bronze in Tokyo, though she rallied for 200 silver.

At worlds, she did the 50 and 100 double in both 2017 and 2019. Her 200 results? Fourth and DQed in semifinals, respectively. This year, she was fourth in the 100 and still has the 50 ahead.

But King has worked hard to evolve, an effort worthy of gold.

“It’s awesome to win this gold,” King said. “I’m so excited to have this medal. That was a great race but that was all tactical. I think the one who wins the 200 is who can control the tactical part and the pace the best.”

Without world-record holder Tatjana Schoenmaker of South Africa, it wasn’t going to take a world record to win. Hence King’s quote on racing. Molly Renshaw set the pace after 100 meters, but the British swimmer faded to seventh. By 150 meters, Douglass was in the lead, .17 up on Strauch with Renshaw in between and fading. Douglass was a half-second up on King.

But off the wall, King surged to get gold. Strauch, who was 14th in Gwangju in 2019 and ninth in Tokyo, picked up her first major international medal. She had led the field in semifinals.

“I expected a close race with the girls,” Strauch said. “I did not have specific expectations, just tried to enjoy it. It’s only a few more days to go with a lot exciting races so I would like to enjoy it with the team. It’s good to race here as the crowd is amazing.”

Douglass, the University of Virginia star, continues blazing her insanely unique path in the sport – bronze at the Olympics in the 200 IM, and now bronze in the 400 free relay and 200 breast at Worlds.

“The plan was to build through the whole race but at the end I was really concentrating on the first 100,” Douglass said. “I’m really happy because that was my first international 200m final and getting a medal is just an extra.”

Douglass finished .66 seconds up on Canadian Kelsey Wog, in 2:23.86. Kotryna Teterevkova of Lithuania was fifth.


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2 years ago

Way to go girls. Impressed with Lily and Kate.

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