Rising junior Lilly King has made quite the splash since arriving at IU two seasons ago. Her performances in the pool have turned her into one of America’s most decorated swimmers.
King has been swimming since she was seven and her years of practice led her to IU, where she has become a well-known name at a school that has such a rich history in the sport. Her accomplishments as a Hoosier quickly earned her the reputation as one of the best young swimmers in the world.
At The 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio, King really broke out. After taking gold in the 100 breaststroke and 4x100 medley, she distinguished herself as one of the best short course yards breaststroke swimmers in history. Her time of 1:04.93 in the 100 set an Olympic record.
Following the Olympics, King backed her break-out performances up with four gold medals and one silver at the 2016 FINA Short Course World Championships. She set the American record in the 50 breaststroke with a time of 28.92 and helped Team USA win the 400 medley relay, the mixed 200 medley relay and the 200 medley, which set the world record.
In just a two year span, King has paired her victories in Rio with two excellent seasons for IU to earn a total of 13 gold medals on the college and professional level. It’s been about a year since her coronation in Rio and King has shown no signs of slowing down since.
Last month, she was named Big Ten Female Athlete of the Year for her accomplishments throughout her sophomore season. Her most recent success came at the 2017 Phillips 66 US Swimming Nationals where she continued her reign over the competition by winning three national titles in the 50, 100 and 200 breaststroke.
She is now qualified to join Team USA again for the upcoming World Championships in Budapest, Hungary. King said her performance in her last meet has her excited for her next.
“After nationals last week, I’m feeling pretty good,” King said. “I think I put up some really good times, but I still feel like there’s more left in the tank. There is still some race-strategy stuff I need to work on.”
King took home three gold medals while breaking records at the competition. Her 50 time of 29.66 set the American, US Open and meet record. IU coach Ray Looze said he was impressed with her recent performances and he’s extremely thrilled with her level of improvement.
“She just continues to amaze,” Looze said. “She just continues to keep upping her game and that’s when you know somebody is really special. I think she could have easily won the Big Ten Female Athlete award as a freshman.”
At the 2016 NCAA finals her freshman year, she captured a national title in the 100 and 200 breaststroke while setting the American, NCAA, NCAA Meet, US Open, Big Ten and IU school records.
“The most exciting moment with IU was probably at NCAAs my freshman year,” King said. “It seemed like every time we hit the water, we swam great. I was swimming out of my mind, I set my first two American records and just things like that. The whole weekend lined up perfectly and it couldn’t have been better.”
By the end of her freshman season, the awards started pouring in. She was named the Big Ten Swimmer of the Year, Big Ten Freshman of the Year, earned four All-America honors and made the All-Big Ten First Team.
King carried that momentum into Rio where she continued to swim at the top of her game by winning two gold medals on the Olympic level. She has even found a way to keep on developing despite already being one of America’s fastest swimmers. Looze said her growth in the weight room is part of the reason she continues to get better, but that she could still benefit more from it.
“I would say she still needs to get substantially stronger,” Looze said. “There’s still a lot of girls out there that are stronger than her, both in the weight room and in the water. As Lilly gets older and more powerful, she’ll only get better.”
King agreed with her coach, saying the weight room has completely changed how she handles and prepares the sport she loves.
“I’ve gotten so much stronger in the weight room this past year,” King said. “I didn’t touch a weight in high school, just did not lift. I was like a little pudge-ball when I got here. I basically had to start from ground zero, working towards Rio.”
After Rio, she returned to the weight room and continued increasing her strength.
“I started that much further ahead this year,” King said. “I just kept going, kept getting stronger and kept pushing weight to where I can now lift more than I ever could before. I just like lifting more than everybody else. It must be my competitive nature.”
King came into the 2017 NCAA Championships with a little more bulk to her as she defended her two national titles in the 100 and 200 breaststroke and secured four more All-America honors.
Along with hitting the weight room, Looze said her dedication to the sport is what really makes her standout.
“Lilly is committed over the long haul,” Looze said. “Even though it’s kind of been a short two years, she’s committed to doing this at a high level and doing it the right way over time. I think that’s a huge advantage for her. She works hard, she loves what she’s doing and she has fight doing it.”
Growing up with a mom that swam and a dad that ran track, King said she doesn’t know what made her fall in love with swimming, but her love just continued to grow for it as she got older.
“I did a lot of different sports growing up, swimming was always the one I came back to,” King said. “I just have such a love for the sport. I love practice, I love my coaches, I love my team so it’s really easy to be committed when you love what you’re doing.”
King and her coaches are very optimistic at what the future might hold for such a young and talented swimmer. King has already acquired more gold than she can carry, but there’s still one feat even Lilly has yet to accomplish, and that’s setting a world record.
“She really wants to break some world records so that’s kind of the next thing on her mind,” Looze said. “The World Championships in Hungary will be her next chance to do that.”
King will represent Team USA in the 50, 100 and 200 breaststroke events at the 2017 FINA World Championships next month in Budapest, Hungary.
“Hopefully I can get a few world records, I don’t have any of those yet,” King said. “That’s what I’m really looking forward to in Budapest. I’d like to continue setting records and breaking barriers that no one has before. I’ve done that in NCAA swimming, but I’d like to do that on the world stage.”
Like what you're reading? Support independent, award-winning college journalism on this site. Donate here.
More in Sports
The Hoosiers are the five seed for next week's Big Ten Tournament.
Harper is currently tied for 128th overall.
IU now has its fourth winning streak of at least five games this season.