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Lilly King not missing Yulia Efimova at short course worlds

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An anticipated Lilly KingYulia Efimova rematch at the world short course championships next week is off after Efimova withdrew for health reasons.

King is not lamenting the absence of her Russian rival.

“It makes it an easier race for me,” King said last week. “Obviously, we’re not friendly. So I guess that’s a lot nicer for me, just not to have her there.”

King said it was kind of in the back of her mind when she signed up for short course worlds in Windsor, Ontario, that she might face Efimova there for the first time since the Rio Olympics.

“But I was really just thinking this is my midseason meet,” said King, an Indiana University sophomore.

King and Efimova developed a rivalry in Rio, with the American saying the Russian shouldn’t have been allowed to compete given her doping history.

Efimova served a 16-month ban for testing positive for the banned steroid DHEA in 2013. She again tested positive in February for meldonium, though she said she stopped taking it before it became a banned substance Jan. 1 and was absolved along with other athletes.

In Rio, King memorably finger-wagged at an image of Efimova on a TV in the ready room and beat the Russian in the 100m breaststroke the next night.

“You’ve been caught for drug cheating, I’m just not a fan,” King memorably said in Rio, adding last week, “[Doping] was on all of our minds. We had team meetings talking about what it was going to be like. We were going to be racing dopers, and we all knew it.”

Efimova took silver in both the 100m and 200m breast, adding to her 2012 Olympic 200m breast bronze. She might not race King until the world championships (long course) in Budapest in July, should they qualify.

King said comments in Russian posted on her social media pages have calmed down in the last three months. She’s back to normal college life — studying, practicing and napping.

“It is a little frustrating at times, when I post a picture of me and one of my best friends on Instagram, and they’re saying, you don’t deserve your gold medal,” King, a physical education major, said upon returning to campus in August. “But I know that I’m right on every single thing that I said. So it really doesn’t bug me too much.”

The Russian interactions bring to mind this anecdote from an Indianapolis Star story in late August:

A cousin King had never met sent her a present: a belt he had received in Afghanistan, with the old Soviet hammer and sickle on the buckle. Afghans, her cousin explained, wore the belt upside down — a symbol of beating the Russians.

Short course worlds are held in 25-meter pools, while the world championships and Olympics are in 50-meter pools. The U.S. roster includes 10 Olympians.

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Vic Wild finds much different welcome at PyeongChang

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PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (AP) — It was a feel-good love story about snowboarders that made Russia smile.

Four years later, Vic Wild and Alena Zavarzina are still married and still riding.

But boy did this get complicated.

Wild, the American-born rider who now competes for Russia, finished out of the medals, same as his wife, at the parallel giant slalom Saturday, closing a sad chapter to a journey that began as a fairy tale but turned into a drama about cheating, doping and figuring out who was to blame.

It was a small part of a much larger story about the strained, scandal-tainted relationship between Russia, the Olympics and the rest of the world.

“For 18 months, the IOC never told me anything,” Wild said after losing in the round-of-16 in a contest taken by Switzerland’s Nevin Galmarini. “No one would tell me if, somehow, some way, I was involved. That definitely put some gray hairs on my head.”

Read the full story at NBCOlympics.com

How Arianna Fontana quietly skated into short track history

Arianna Fontana
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Arianna Fontana is silently one of the greatest short track skaters in Olympic history.

Her numbers at the Games speak for themselves; one gold, two silver, and five bronze. Those eight total medals make her the most decorated female short track skater by two medals, and tie her with legends Apolo Ohno and Viktor Ahn for most Olympic medals ever won by a short track skater.

But it is her numbers outside the Olympic stage that really call attention to her Olympic success. She is a 14-time world medalist, which is no small feat, but her podium appearances are spread over a 12-year competitive career. Someone like Elise Christie, for example, has won 12 world championships medals in just five years. And also unlike Christie, Fontana has never won an overall title.

But Christie struggled on the sport’s biggest stage in both Sochi and PyeongChang, and has yet to win her first Olympic medal. Fontana, on the other hand, has become such a consistent podium presence over the last two Games that she almost makes it look easy.

Before retiring from competition, Ohno won 21 world medals, eight of them gold. Ahn, still competing but not one of the athletes invited to competed at the PyeongChang Olympics as an Olympic Athlete from Russia, has to date has won 35 world medals, 20 of which were gold.

Fontana does not come from a short track power like South Korea or China, perhaps another reason why she is not more notorious.

Most of her medals are bronze, which could be used as a strike against her, but just ask Lindsey Vonn how hard she worked to get hers this year.

Fontana’s first medal came at the 2006 Torino Olympics, when she helped the Italian women to bronze in the 3000m relay at just 15 years old. Fontana earned her first individual medal, a bronze in the 500m, four years later in Vancouver.

But in Sochi, she exploded, making the podium in three out of four events: the 500m, where she won silver, and the 1500m and 3000m relay, where she picked up two more bronzes.

“I thought I was going to win a gold medal in Sochi but I still don’t have that,” Fontana said to the ISU in early 2017. “That’s there up in my mind and sometimes it comes out and says, ‘Hey, you still miss me? So come get me!'”.

But after the 2014-15 season, Fontana’s desire for gold was eclipsed by something else: burnout.

“I was pretty tired mentally. My body was ready to race again but my mind was not. It was hard for me. After the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, I had some doubts about whether to keep skating or not,” Fontana said to the ISU. “Maybe it would have been better to take that year right after the Olympic Games off, but I decided to keep going. It is not that I regret it, but I had some hard times that season.”

She stayed active during her time off, learning how to box, which eased the transition back to skating.

Her pursuit for gold was what motivated her comeback, and in 2018 Fontana got what she came back for.

“When I saw I was first, I was just yelling and started crying. I worked for four years and the last four months were really hard for me. I was really focused on getting here in the best shape ever,” Fontana said after earning the 500m Olympic title.

“I was chasing it and finally I got it.”

In addition to her 500m gold medal, Fontana also added a 1000m bronze and 3000m relay bronze.

Fontana has spoken about retirement, but has not made a definitive decision. She will only be 31 years old by the time 2022 rolls around, so she could feasibly add to her medal haul if she competes. What she has made clear is that when she does leave the sport she hopes to become a personal trainer.

Whenever she does retire Fontana should be considered not only one of the greatest Italian athletes or greatest short track skaters, but also one of the greatest Winter Olympians.