Russia’s Yulia Efimova squared this week’s unofficial FINA World Swimming Championships Breaststroke Challenge at one victory apiece Friday.
Efimova, who was always going to be the favorite at the 200-meter distance, made good on that promise with a blistering 2:19.64 effort. It might not have been the world record she sought — that still belongs to Denmark’s Rikke Pederson (2:19.11) from 2013 — but she did have the satisfaction of keeping American rival Lilly King off the medal stand.
King, who led after 50 meters, couldn’t quite pace herself over the longer distance and finished fourth in 2:22.10. But compared to her 12th place effort in the 200 at the Rio Olympics, which didn’t qualify her into the finals last summer, King’s improvement has been encouraging in an event that is still a work in progress for her.
The Evansville native and Indiana University swimmer even beat Efimova in one of the 200 breast qualifying heats on Thursday in Budapest when they were drawn into the same group.
And, of course, there is King’s world-record gold medal performance of 1:04.13 in the 100 breaststroke at the world championships on Tuesday where Efimova finished third in 1:05.05 behind American Katie Meili (1:05.03).
The two breaststroke rivals will square off again Saturday and Sunday in the 50-meter breaststroke qualifying, semifinals and finals. Qualifying begins overnight, around 2:30 a.m. CT Saturday. So check back here later to get an update on how the favored King does in her qualifying heat.
On Friday, it was another Indiana native who kept the pressure on Efimova. But when the distance was covered, even Bethany Galat of Mishawaka was more than two seconds slower than the Russian. Galat, who swims at Texas A&M, took second with a time of 2:21.77 and China’s Shi Jinglin was third in 2:21.93. King was another 18-hundredths of a second slower.
A Texas A&M swimmer, Galat did open eyes with her closing speed. She was seventh at the 150-meter mark, which is the point Efimova finally moved into the lead. Over that final 50 meters, Galat claimed the silver medal.
At the NCAA championships in March, contested at yards rather than meters, King won the “A” final. Galat didn’t make that final, but she did win the “B” final (but was more than 3 seconds slower than King).
NOTE: Efimova’s win was part of a sweep for the Russians. The men’s gold was won by Russia’s Anton Churkov, who swam a 2:06.96 race. Americans Nik Fink and Kevin Cordes were fifth and sixth, nearly two seconds slower.