As the water settled prior to Tuesday’s 100m breaststroke final, IU junior swimmer Lilly King just stood in her lane staring at her former foe preparing in the lane next to hers. Russian swimmer Yulia Efimova continued her pre-race routine as if she didn’t know King was glaring her way.
This isn’t the first time these two swimmers have encountered each other and it will certainly not be the last. The 2017 FINA Swimming World Championships in Budapest, Hungary, simply served as the location for the most recent installment of the King-Efimova rivalry.
The highly-anticipated rematch between two of the best short-course swimmers in the world was very similar to the 100m final back at the 2016 Rio Olympics. Only this time, King broke the world record instead of the Olympic one.
King’s time of 1:04.13 was 0.22 seconds faster than the previous world record set by Lithuania’s Ruta Meilutyte in 2013. The reigning Olympic champion also broke the IU school record along with the 4-year old American record.
Giving one last glance over to her Russian-rival after the race, King raised her hands in triumph before embracing her Team USA teammate, Katie Meili, who took silver by narrowly beating out Efimova by 0.02 seconds.
The rivalry between King and Efimova began in Rio de Janeiro during the semifinal races leading up to 100m breaststroke final. Efimova had waved her finger showing everyone that she was No. 1 in the world at the time. King waved her finger as well, but in disapproval of the cheating allegations surrounding Efimova and the rest of the Russian team.
King was well aware of the Russian doping scandal that had gone on before the Summer Olympics. Efimova, a four-time world champion, had been suspended by FINA for testing positive for meldonium, an endurance-boosting drug that had recently been banned.
Many Russian athletes were also suspended, but just before the opening ceremonies, FINA lifted the suspensions after a ruling was made by the World Anti-Doping Agency, which said athletes who tested positive could have taken the drug before it was banned.
Efimova faced a lifetime ban as this was her second offense. She had already served a 16-month suspension for testing positive for the banned steroid Dehydroepiandresterone in 2013. King knew what she was up against on her way to winning Olympic gold and she hasn’t forgotten since.
Before heading to Budapest, the All-American swimmer said her goal was to do something even she hasn’t done before and that was to set a world record.
“Hopefully I can get a few world records,” King said. “I don’t have any of those yet. That’s what I’m really looking forward to in Budapest.”
King knew to do this she would need to beat Efimova, last year’s 100m world champion. After sizing up her rival, King swam her way even further into the record books by breaking the world record on her way to collecting her first world title.
IU’s swimming superstar might not be finished either, as she looks to replicate her success in both the 50m and 200m breaststroke finals. King and Efimova will most likely meet again as the two are ranked No. 1 and 2 in both events this year.
Another chapter of this intense rivalry could be written soon with the 200m final coming up Friday, followed by the 50m final Sunday.
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