“Yulia Efimova needs to quit wagging her finger at Lilly King. It only further fuels their rivalry in the pool, which obviously is a good thing as far as motivating King.
In the latest chapter of their Cold War swimming showdown, which took place in Budapest, Hungary at the FINA World Championships on Tuesday, King shattered the world record for the 100-meter breaststroke in 1 minute 04.13 seconds.
The record had been held by Lithuania’s Ruta Meilutyte when she swam 1:04.35 at the World Championships in 2013.
“My first world record,” King said in a post-race interview posted on usaswimming.org. “I’m very, very excited, and honored to be the only one faster than Ruta Meilutyte. She’s been one of my heroes growing up. I’m just really excited. I don’t know how to put it into words … I was actually freaking out when I got to the pool. I was very nervous, but then I got in for warm-up, and I felt a lot better. I felt really, really confident going into the race.”
Tuesday’s performance means King now holds the Olympic and FINA World Records in her signature event. That’s right: the Evansville native and Indiana University swimmer is second to no one in the history of the sport.
In Monday’s semifinals, Efimova had come within one-hundredth of a second of Meilutyte’s record. Efimova had celebrated her personal-best time by again wagging a finger into the camera. She knew King would be watching.
King did what she needed to do in the semis by going out and posting what was her personal best (1:04.53) to enter as the second fastest of the eight swimmers in the finals. And almost as if she was answering Efimova’s finger wag with some polite trash talk, she revealed that she had yet to shave for the meet.
In theory, shaving body hair can help swimmers go tenths of a second faster. Whether there is any truth to that or not, King was faster Tuesday. As she made the turn first, she continued to power through the second 50.
Efimova ended up third in 1:05.05, or 0.69 hundredths of a second slower than her semifinal posting. King’s USA teammate Katie Meili took advantage to claim the silver medal, out-touching Efimova in 1:05.03.
Meilutyte was fourth in 1:05.66.
But all that matters to King is that she now holds the world record in her signature event.
“That race is always going to be a showdown, and always an exciting one, especially after the time Yulia was able to put up yesterday, which was very, very impressive,” said King. “It was going to be a dogfight, and I was just hoping I was going to come out on top.”
King ignited the rivalry with Efimova last summer at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro when she called out the Russian and the International Olympic Committee after a second drug suspension by the Russian was overturned that allowed Efimova to be reinstated. Efimova had previously served a 15-month suspension.
King made her feelings known about athletes who have been caught using performance-enhancing substances and did her own finger-wagging at Efimova. Then she went out and set the Olympic record of 1:04.93.
That means King now has two of the top 7 100-meter breast performances all-time.
Her opening split on Tuesday was 29.80 and she closed in 34.33.
The fireworks aren’t over. King and Efimova will also square off in the 200-meter and 50-meter breaststroke events with the finals in the 200 on Friday and the 50 finals set for Sunday. She also could possibly be chosen to swim the breaststroke leg on Sunday in the 400 individual medley relay.
“I love it,” King told USA Swimming. “I think we get a lot of rivalries like this in other sports – football, basketball, things like that. In swimming, we see a lot of really nice people, and people being really nice. That’s great and all, but that’s not my personality. I’m spunky, I’m confident, and I’m not going to not be myself before a race, so that’s just kind of how it works.”