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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Teri McKeever fired by Cal as women’s swimming coach after investigation

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Teri McKeever, the first woman to serve as a U.S. Olympic swimming head coach, was fired by the University of California at Berkeley after an investigation into alleged verbal and emotional abuse of swimmers that she denied.

McKeever was put on paid administrative leave from her job as head women’s swimming coach in May after an Orange County Register report that 20 current or former Cal swimmers said McKeever verbally and emotionally bullied her swimmers.

Cal athletics director Jim Knowlton wrote in a letter to the Cal team and staff that a resulting independent law firm report detailed “verbally abusive conduct that is antithetical to our most important values.”

“I strongly believe this is in the best interests of our student-athletes, our swimming program and Cal Athletics as a whole,” Knowlton said of McKeever’s firing in a press release. “The report details numerous violations of university policies that prohibit race, national origin and disability discrimination.”

The Orange County Register first published what it says is the full independent report here with redactions.

“I deny and unequivocally refute all conclusions that I abused or bullied any athlete and deny any suggestion I discriminated against any athlete on the basis of race, disability or sexual orientation,” McKeever said in a statement Tuesday confirming her firing and expressing disappointment in how the investigation was conducted. “While I am disappointed in the way my CAL Career will conclude, I wish to thank and celebrate the many student-athletes and staff that made my time in Berkeley a true blessing and gift.”

McKeever’s lawyer wrote that McKeever “will be filing suit to expose the manner in which gender has affected not only the evaluation of her coaching but harmed and continues to harm both female and male athletes.”

McKeever led Cal women’s swimming and diving for nearly 30 years, winning four NCAA team titles and coaching Olympic champions including Missy FranklinNatalie Coughlin and Dana Vollmer.

In 2004, she became the first woman to be on a U.S. Olympic swim team coaching staff, as an assistant. In 2012, she became the first woman to be head coach of a U.S. Olympic swim team. She was an assistant again for the Tokyo Games.

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Diana Taurasi returns to U.S. national basketball team

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Diana Taurasi is set to return to the U.S. national basketball team next week for the first time since the Tokyo Olympics, signaling a possible bid for a record-breaking sixth Olympic appearance in 2024 at age 42.

Taurasi is on the 15-player roster for next week’s training camp in Minnesota announced Tuesday.

Brittney Griner is not on the list but is expected to return to competitive basketball later this year with her WNBA team, the Phoenix Mercury (also Taurasi’s longtime team, though she is currently a free agent), after being detained in Russia for 10 months in 2022.

Taurasi said as far back as the 2016 Rio Games that her Olympic career was likely over, but returned to the national team after Dawn Staley succeeded Geno Auriemma as head coach in 2017.

In Tokyo, Taurasi and longtime backcourt partner Sue Bird became the first basketball players to win five Olympic gold medals. Bird has since retired.

After beating Japan in the final, Taurasi said “see you in Paris,” smiling, as she left an NBC interview. That’s now looking less like a joke and more like a prediction.

Minnesota Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve succeeded Staley as head coach last year. In early fall, she guided the U.S. to arguably the best FIBA World Cup performance ever, despite not having stalwarts Bird, Griner, Tina Charles and Sylvia Fowles.

Taurasi was not in contention for the team after suffering a WNBA season-ending quad injury in the summer. Taurasi, who is 38-0 in Olympic games and started every game at the last four Olympics, wasn’t on a U.S. team for an Olympics or worlds for the first time since 2002.

Next year, Taurasi can become the oldest Olympic basketball player in history and the first to play in six Games, according to Olympedia.org. Spain’s Rudy Fernandez could also play in a sixth Olympics in 2024.

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