| Friday, December 2, 2016
It was the wag heard ‘round the world.
Over eight days in Rio, the Olympic Aquatics Stadium played host to a number of memorable swims, but the most emphatic statement of all may have been the not-so-subtle, side-to-side gesturing of Lilly King’s right index finger.Of course, calling out a fellow competitor for a history of doping after a semi is one thing, actually beating her in the final is quite another.
That’s exactly what King did as she captured individual gold in the women’s 100 meter breaststroke while vanquishing her Russian rival, letting the world know that clean swimming counts.
In doing so, she dispelled the notion that the international discourse sparked by her bold-and-public stance voiced 24 hours earlier might pull her down. If anything, it helped propel the 19-year-old American to an Olympic-record time.
Did King push the noise aside? No, she embraced it.
As for the swim itself, the breaststroker said it went exactly as scripted.
“I know I was out fast because I’m always out fast. That’s pretty much a standard. I knew that Ruta (Meilutyte, defending Olympic champion) was going to be with me that first 50, and I turned at the wall first, which I expected,” King recalled. “I could feel Efimova creeping towards me, which I expected her to do, but I remember that I wasn’t dying quite as much as I normally do, and then the last 10 meters I knew I had it because nobody can catch me that last 10-15 meters into the wall.”
Nobody could. King touched, turned to the scoreboard, then slapped the water in celebration, her outward exuberance belying a fair amount of inner relief in the result.
“Definitely, it was all relief,” King said of her emotions following the victory. “I believed months and months before that I was going to win that medal, but knowing that I hadn’t said something stupid on camera the night before – literally getting an entire country all fired up about it – and then lost? That would have been absolutely horrible. But I walked the walk with that one.”
The Olympic champion also celebrated the realization that fellow American Katie Meili would join her on the podium, marking the first time Americans medaled together in the event at a Games.
“Katie and I have been swimming together in the 100 breast for so many years. I know she’s put everything she possibly could into that one race, so just seeing all that success coming back for her was such a great moment,” King said. “I didn’t want to just revel in everything that I had done; I wanted to celebrate with someone who had been there on the journey with me. It was very special to see Katie get that bronze.”
Up next for the Indiana University All-American is a hefty program at the FINA World Swimming Championships (25m) in December.
“I’m swimming six events at short course worlds, which is an absolute haul for me. Until this summer I was kind of a one-and-done person, but now I’m in six events including relays, which is absolutely crazy, so I’m trying to make it through all six days and not drown,” King laughed of her stacked lineup.
Then she confidently added, “But seriously, I’m hoping to set a couple of world records there, and I think it’s going to be a really good meet for me.”
Strong words, but after owning it in Rio, who could doubt her?
USA Swimming is re-celebrating the top moments from the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio. Check back onsftest.usaswimming.org every few days for new profile on the the swimmers who made those moments happen. Also, follow us on Facebook and Twitter @USASwimming for more on our success in Rio.