As the overhead lights dimmed, colored lights planted around the IU Natatorium at IU-Purdue University Indianapolis began to flash. Music blasted around the arena as the massive LED stood scoreboard behind the starting blocks.
It was a spectacle different from anything Olympic gold medalist and IU professional group swimmer Cody Miller had seen.
“Nothing like that has ever been done before,” said Miller, who graduated from IU in 2014. “It was a spectacle, it was a show, and goddamn, it was a lot of fun.”
Miller and professional teammate Lilly King, who will graduate IU in December, excelled during the FINA Champions Swim Series in Indianapolis in an event that showcased a potential future of swimming to the viewers.
Miller won the 100 meter breaststroke with a time of 59.29 seconds. This is Miller’s second event back after injuries kept him out of competition for a year. Miller won the 100 breaststroke with a career-best time of 59.24 in Bloomington at the TYR Pro Series.
“For me to put up a time that is very competitive and be top 10 in the world again is a weight lifted off my shoulders in a sense,” Miller said. “I feel good. I went a full year without being competitive. It’s obviously good to be competitive again.”
The event this weekend marked King's second as a professional, and her second oppotunity to win prize money.
"That makes it a little bit better when I win," King said.
It also was King's first chance in two years to race Russian Yulia Efimova. The last time the two faced at the 2017 World Championships, King beat her and set a world record in the 100 breaststroke with a time of 1:04.13 .
They had a rivalry born at the 2016 Olympics stemming from Efimova’s history of steroid use. Whatever tension there appeared to have cooled in 2019.
"During the Olympics and World Championships the year after we did not speak," King said. "We've grown up. It was three years ago so lets move on. We're going to be racing each other a lot more now, especially that I'm pro. I think we've both moved on with the middle school girl act of hating each other and not speaking."
The Indiana-native gold medalist received the biggest ovation upon entering the pool deck from the Indianapolis crowd.
“When Lilly walked out, I thought the place was going to explode,” Miller said.
King raced Efimova three times – in the 50, 100 and 200 breaststroke – over the two-day event and beat her in each race.
In both the 50 and 100 breaststroke events, King posted the fastest time in the world this year. Her 29.63 time in the 50 breaststroke beat Efimova by 0.3 seconds. A 1:05.13 time in the 100 breaststroke bested Efimova by 0.38 seconds.
In the 200 meter breaststroke, King swam a 2:21.39 time, a lifetime best for the Olympian. Eifmova was second again, and 0.2 seconds behind.
King and Efimova did swim on the same team in a mixed 4x100 freestyle relay event. Miller swam in the event as well and finished third while King’s group was last, 10 seconds behind the winners.
Both Miller and King said the event itself is good for the future of swimming. The arena was full and had a good atmosphere, Miller said, and the made-for-TV event drew viewers who may not be swimming fans. Features including the lights and production as well as only having four swimmers per race instead of eight make the event more friendly to viewers, they both said.
“In previous years nothing like this existed, and no one ever watched swimming,” Miller said. “But I was getting messages from people in Indy and people across the country who are like, ‘Hey the meets on whatever network it is, we’re watching it at the bar.’ That’s really cool, that’s the more exciting thing.”
The event also featured increased prize money – first place was $10,000, second was $8,000, third was $6,000 and fourth was $5,000 – creating stakes for an event that doesn’t have the same cache as the Olympics or World Championships.
"Obviously the prize money is a lot better than we have been earning in the past," King said. "We've got a lot of professional swimmers and Olympians who have trouble paying rent because we don't earn enough in our sport which is sad to see.”
The 2019 World Championships are set to begin July 12 in Gwangju, South Korea. It will have a strong IU presence, including King, IU professional group members Zane Grothe, Zach Apple and Blake Pieroni, and IU sophomore Michael Brinegar. IU Head Coach Ray Looze will also be there.
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