By Bob Schaller//Contributor | Tuesday, May 16, 2017
In last week’s Part 1, Lilly King said when the Olympics ended, she knew she had reached the pinnacle of the sport, but she knew she still had a lot of work to do. In this week’s Part 2, the Indiana University junior-to-be talks about what the challenge has been like since the Olympics, including a second consecutive amazing NCAA Championships where she won two titles. She talks about what she’s learning, and why she’s focusing on being more empathetic, in this week’s 20 Question Tuesday.
1. We hear a lot about coming back, a post-Olympic sort of funk, how or did that affect you?
Lilly: I am definitely still in a post-Olympic funk. I realized it after (Short Course) Worlds (in December) because racing wasn’t the same for me. It felt like work, not something I enjoyed.
2. What do you attribute that to?
Lilly: I didn’t take adequate rest after Rio. I took a week and a half off. So I had to come to terms with it, and I am still coming to terms with it -- why did it (post-Olympic funk) happen to me, and learning to deal with it. I said at NCAAs that it was harder to get excited for a race.
3. So how do you adjust?
Lilly: Part of it is learning to race myself. That’s something important. I swim because I love to race and compete. When I have someone to compete against, I do better. People, when you talk about this are like, “Oh, poor you,” but when you love the sport and want to get better, you have to learn to race against yourself sometimes and still get better.
4. What was the challenge last fall when you started academics again at Indiana?
Lilly: I love summer -- it’s my favorite season! It’s all swimming all the time. So when I got back to school, I just wanted the whole semester to be done, and I wasn’t back into swimming yet (mentally). But this semester was better, and I got it together finally.
5. What was school like now as a sophomore, post Rio, compared to freshman year academically?
Lilly: It’s a little bit harder but mostly just the same. I have more major classes, but I declared my major before I started so I had some of those (classes) my freshman year. It’s just a higher level now. And I just found out I got a 97 on my Structural kinesiology final, so I am excited! I am not always the best student, I’m not going (laughs) to lie. So I sat down for four hours yesterday and focused, and got it done. I am improving at that, but there’s still a lot of work to be done.
6. What were Short-course Worlds like in December in Windsor, Ontario, and did you see gold in the 50 breaststroke coming?
Lilly: It was interesting, I’ll say that. Yes. I mean, it’s the 50. That’s my bread and butter. The 50 should be an Olympic event. That’s a real event. That’s what the real swimmers do. My 50 is so much better than my 100, even the 50 in long course.
7. Silver in the 100 breaststroke at Short Course Worlds in December considering how exhausted you must have been is certainly a solid result -- how did you feel in that race?
Lilly: That was kind of disappointing but it is what it is. I lost to the world record holder so there is no shame in that but I (laughs) shamed myself anyway. I have to -- I don’t like to lose.
8. After that meet in Ontario, where you hauled in four golds and one silver, how did you feel heading into the Christmas break finally after that amazing year of 2016 NCAAs, Olympic Trials, Rio Olympics and then Short-Course Worlds?
Lilly: Honestly? I was just mad I had that silver! I hadn’t really put it into perspective. Heading to Bermuda (for Indiana team camp), we stayed in barracks for training camp, and so we thought it’d be like this Army mentality in this beautiful country. I was miserable, like most college students (laughs), but we were there to get work done and ready for NCAAs.
9. What was your mindset in January coming back onto campus -- were you rested a bit at least mentally and physically?
Lilly: No, not at all. I was just thinking, get me to NCAAs, to the big meet, please. Because in January, you have so many back-to-back dual meets, so it’s kind of a haul. Get me to Big 10s, get me to NCAAs and then I’m fine.
10. Big year for the Indiana women wasn’t it -- what’s it feel like to see the program move up in the rankings?
Lilly: Our girls work so hard. I really noticed that when I got to train with everybody. I’m not saying other Olympians don’t work hard because they do. But we do so much more yardage in practices. We’re a very high yardage team. We do 10 swims a week where most do nine. Those girls put in so much effort. A bunch of them dropped so much time. Ali Rockett, she had never swam at NCAAs, and dropped a huge, crazy swim at her first NCAAs and is an all-American! Stuff like that doesn’t happen often. It was really cool to see the work pay off for those girls, because they earned it.
11. Building on your NCAAs from last year, you rocked it again in the 100 and 200 breaststroke with titles at the NCAA meet, how important was it for you to win both those races?
Lilly: Really important. I would hate to not repeat -- that would be embarrassing. I was not satisfied with my 100. I won, but I wanted more. I was glad to get the points for the team but still… The 200 was sweet -- I was glad to win.
12. What was different about NCAAs this year compared to last year?
Lilly: Last year, everything was all so new. The meet was new to me. I was swimming out of my mind. Every time I hit the water it was faster, faster. This year at the Natatorium (her home pool) I felt like I was at high school state, I didn’t win my junior year and that meet that has haunted me my whole life.
13. What improvements did you focus on after NCAAs and how is that work going?
Lilly: Just like working through practice, when I am in a funk and I don’t know what to do other than go faster in practice. I beat myself up a lot in practice. But I’m getting better at thinking my way through it.
14. Did you adapt your dryland and cardio conditioning this year at all?
Lilly: No, it’s about the same. We’ve been doing what we’re doing last year, just trying to go faster. It’s still working, so we’re not going to change just to change -- we will if there is a reason, though. I’m a student of the sport now more than I ever have been.
15. Almost a year out from Trials and Rio, what do you look back on now and think, “If I’d have known then what I know now”?
Lilly: Nothing. I wouldn’t change anything. I was in such a good place mentally last year. I wish I could pull that into my brain again. As I said, everything like with NCAAs, was so new, so exciting, it was kind of like that sixth sense thing that I mentioned (in last week’s 20 Questions), I knew I would win (at Trials), I knew I would make the team, swim fast, and win a gold medal. It’s not a cocky thing, it’s a confidence thing. I knew things were right. Maybe one thing I’d change is tone down (laughs) the interviews.
16. Your Indiana teammates were so good at NCAAs, what is that like for you to be one of the leaders as a sophomore with that amazing group of women?
Lilly: Such a good group. It’s really cool as just a sophomore to be a leader on the team -- be the leader on the team. I am a captain now, which I am really excited about. It’s kind of weird how you transition and grow into a new role and learn from it. It’s such a little thing maybe to some people, but I am really excited about being a captain.
17. You see Coach Looze all the time, how has this last year shaped him or changed him as a coach?
Lilly: Last year was my first year here, and I heard he was a lot more wound up via Cody (Miller) than he was before. Ray has also become more of a student of the sport. He’s always speaking with other coaches and asking a lot of questions of what he can do to make us better. What can I do for them? How can I help them? We started physical therapy and massage -- I just started that a month ago, and I really like it. He focuses, now, more on a lot of little things, the details.
18. Your parents Mark, a runner, and Ginny, a swimmer, were such good athletes -- what advice or things did you pick up from them that helped you mentally, or physically?
Lilly: It’s weird because there was never a moment where they said, “This is the key, this is what you do.” It was a very long process. What my Mom taught me was to always stand up for what you believe in -- that’s a big thing for me. I have a very vivid memory in second grade of coming home crying. It was a typical 7-year-old’s story of girls being mean to me. My Mom said, “If they’re being mean to you, don’t play with them, and stand up for yourself.” That was a big thing. You have all these bullying talks at school where they always say to tell a teacher. My parents said, “No, stand up for yourself.” That’s the biggest thing my parents helped me with. And it ended up playing such a large role in what happened this summer. My Dad is the reserved, quiet type, but very gritty. My Mom is (laughs) more like me. My Mom and Dad are (laughs) Penn and Teller, and it works.
19. Big meets this summer with Trials, and so many trips, and though 2020 is far away, how do all these events along the way fit into your long-term plan for the 2020 Trials and Games?
Lilly: I just want to get back to racing, and racing fast, and feeling good. Just get back to feeling like last summer. And it obviously won’t be like that, but getting close to that mindset so I’m ready.
20. What’s a characteristic you’re working on or want to develop more of as you move forward into your final two years of college and another quadrennial with Trials in three years?
Lilly: Empathy. I don’t always empathize well enough. If someone is acting like a baby, my first reaction used to be to tell them, “Stop being a baby.” But you have to think about what they are going through -- what caused it and how they respond to certain situations. Not everyone takes everything the same way. You have to be able to reach them. You also have to know how to give people feedback so they don’t take it as criticizing them too much or not be aware of their feelings and what makes them who they are. With being a leader now, that’s something I am more aware of, so I am working and focusing on that.