Lilly King capped off a dominating week at the FINA World Swimming Championships in Budapest, Hungary on Sunday by winning the 50-meter breaststroke in world record time and then being part of a women’s 4×100 medley relay team that set another world record.
“I couldn’t imagine a better finish to this meet,” King said after she closed out her week.
Overall, King won gold and set world records in four events during the week including two relays. Her golden haul included the 100-meter breaststroke (1:04.13), 50 breaststroke (29.40), 4×100 mixed medley relay (3:38.56) and 4×100 women’s medley relay (3:51.55).
In Sunday’s 50 breast final, King beat Russian rival Yulia Efimova (29.57) by .17 hundredths of a second with USA teammate Katie Meili (29.99) finishing third. Lithuania’s Ruta Meilutyte, whose world record King shattered, was fourth in 30.20, followed by Sweden’s Jennie Johannson (30.31), Great Britain’s Sarah Vasey (30.62), Italy’s Ariana Castiglioni (30.74) and Canada’s Rachel Nicol (30.80).
In the mixed medley relay, the Evansville, Ind., native posted a 100 breaststroke time of 1:04.15 that was just two-hundredths of a second off her world record. On Sunday in the women’s 4×100 medley relay, King wasn’t quite as fast, but her time of 1:04.48 did give her yet another performance under 65 seconds.
Last summer in Rio the Indiana University swimmer set the Olympic record with a time of 1:04:93 in winning gold in the 100 breast. That means that since last summer, she has trimmed 0.80 hundredths of a second off her time.
Rio de Janeiro is also where a heated rivalry began with Efimova, when King criticized the last-minute decision to allow Efimova to compete despite two previous failed drug tests. But while swimming’s Cold War may not have ended this week, it did enter a stage of swimming détente.
There was a sign the feud had cooled when King, 20, complimented Efimova, 25, for nearly equaling the world record in the 100-meter breaststroke during the semifinals before King broke the record in the finals.
They officially buried the hatchet during Sunday’s interviews.
“Obviously, we are not best friends, we are rivals, but I was having a good time racing her,” said King. “We have definitely been a lot more civil than we were last year, so I’m enjoying that.”
Added Efimova: “… She told me she loves to race with me because it makes her race faster too and makes it more interesting to watch.”
In addition to all the international acclaim she has earned over the past two summers, King returns for her junior year at IU as the two-time defending champion in the 100- and 200-yard breast events.
If you can call it that, King’s only disappointment this week came with her fourth-place finish in the 200-meter breaststroke that was won by Efimova. But even then, her time of 2:22.11 helped her improve from a 12th-place Olympic finish in the event.
For the week, King won two of the three individual showdowns with Efimova, who is the most decorated woman swimmer in the history of the world championships with 13 total medals.
Efimova added two silver medals to her total Sunday in the 50 breast and 4×100 women’s medley relay. But yes, that’s two more times King was able to finish ahead of Efimova.
But as far as the world stage, we now know that King was just getting started last summer at the Rio Olympics when she won two gold medals and set an Olympic record in the 100-meter breaststroke. This was King’s first time at the world meet, which is second in stature to the Olympics
She is the first IU swimmer to set a world record in an individual event since Jim Montgomery in the 100 freestyle at the 1976 Olympic Games. And King did it twice.
She has established herself with Katie Ledecky and Simone Manuel as the stars of the United States women’s national team. Ladecky, a distance freestyle swimmer, earned five gold medals, including being part of two winning relays. Meanwhile, freestyle sprinter Manuel claimed three golds, including two relays. Manuel also earned a bronze medal in the 50 freestyle.
Overall, the United States finished with 18 gold medals and 38 overall, more than doubling the number of gold medals (8) from two years ago when the Americans only claimed 23 total medals.
The star for the U.S. was men’s swimmer Caleb Dressell, who tied Michael Phelps for most gold medals in one world meet with seven. Phelps had won seven gold medals 10 years ago.