An anticipated Lilly King–Yulia 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.Follow @nzaccardi