Lilly King has made good on her promise.
She’s better. She’s stronger. She’s faster.
On Wednesday night at the Phillips 66 Swim Nationals at the IUPUI Natatorium in Indianapolis, King won the 200-meter breaststroke in 2:21.83, which is the second fastest time in the world this year and a personal record by more than two seconds.
“I’d gone 2:24 six times since last December, so I was ready for that breakthrough,” King said after the race. “Luckily it came tonight. I knew I had that in me, I knew last summer, but it just decided to come today. I’ve really been working on my back half.”
Last summer King set an Olympic record in the 100-meter breaststroke (1:04.93) to win an individual gold medal in Rio de Janeiro. But she had gone to Brazil having also qualified for the women’s 200-meter breaststroke and was disappointed when she didn’t come close to making the cut to compete for a medal.
Her Rio semifinal heat time of 2:24.59 was only 12th fastest with the top eight advancing to the finals. Despite an unwavering confidence that she could contend for medals in both events, the 200 distance proved to be too much of a challenge on the world stage last summer for the Evansville native.
It’s not now. If she had posted Wednesday’s PR a year earlier, King could have at least won a silver medal in the 200 in Rio. But that’s not how it works, is it?
Just know that America’s Queen of the Breaststroke hasn’t stopped pushing herself and now is in position to win both the 100 and 200 breaststroke races at the FINA World Championships next month in Budapest. The only person faster than her in the 200 breast this year is her Russian rival, Yulia Efimova (2:19.11).
At the moment that’s two seconds faster than King, which will make for another interesting chapter in their rivalry.
On Wednesday, King managed to beat a former high school rival in the 200, finishing just hundredths of a second ahead of Bethany Galat (2:22.24), who now has the world’s fourth fastest time in the 200 this year.
It was Galat who prevented King from winning a state championship in the Indiana high school meet until King was a senior at Reitz. Galat, who won three 200-yard breast titles and two 100-yard breast championships for Penn High, swam in college at Texas A&M.
King said Galat was someone she had measured herself against in high school. Now its Galat who is trying to catch King.
“We’ve been pushing each other for so, so long,” King said of Galat. “I’m really excited to get to train with her when we get to Croatia for training camp, she’s an awesome person.”
King will swim the 100 breast at the Phillips 66 Nationals on Friday with the prelims at 9:36 a.m. CT and the finals set for 6:01 p.m. CT. The IU sophomore is also competing in the 50 meter breast on Thursday (10:15 am./6:36 p.m.) and the 200-meter individual medley on Saturday (8 a.m. CT/5:36 p.m. CT).
That means she could end up qualifying in four events for the FINA World Championships and any medals she might win in Budapest would bring another level of accomplishment for the two-time Olympic gold medalist and four-time NCAA champion.
On Thursday, King established a new American record in the 50-meter breaststroke by swimming the world’s fastest time of 2017 of 29.66. Fellow Olympian Katie Meili was second in 30.11, which ranks as second fastest time in world in 2017.
The world record of 29.48 is owned by Lithuania’s Ruta Meilutyte. King hasn’t been shy about setting her sights at that time.
“It’s just working on all the small details and getting things worked out in practice,” she said after the event.
She doesn’t get the opportunity to swim the 50 meter breast often since she swims short course yard distances in college and it wasn’t an Olympic event last summer. But it will be an event at the world championships next month in Budapest.
“The 50 meter has been my best event since I was about 12 so its actually good to be back swimming it,” she said.
The top five finishers on Thursday were all under 31 seconds, but King still won with relative ease.
The top five: King 29.66, Meili 30.11, Molly Hannis 30.24, Natalie Pierce 30.89, Jorie Caneta 30.99.