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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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Penny Oleksiak edges Simone Manuel, Regan Smith sizzles again in Knoxville

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Penny Oleksiak and Simone Manuel nearly duplicated their Olympic gold-medal tie. The Canadian Oleksiak edged Manuel by .03 in the 100m freestyle at a Tyr Pro Series stop in Knoxville, Tenn., on Sunday night.

Oleksiak clocked 53.41 seconds, coming back from .37 behind Manuel at the 50-meter mark. The two tied for the Rio Olympic title in an Olympic record 52.70 seconds four years ago. Oleksiak was the surprise, a 16-year-old who came into the Games ranked eighth in the world for the year.

Since, Manuel swept the 2017 and 2019 World titles. Oleksiak was sixth at 2017 Worlds and withdrew before the 100m free at 2019 Worlds. She ranked 21st in the world last year. Oleksiak’s time Sunday was her fastest since 2017.

Full Knoxville meet results are here. The Pro Series’ next stop is Des Moines from March 4-7.

In other events Sunday, world-record holder Regan Smith won the 200m backstroke in 2:05.94, the fastest time ever outside of a national championships or major international meet. Smith, 17, achieved the same feat on Saturday in the 100m back, where she also broke the world record at last summer’s worlds.

Madisyn Cox won a matchup of the three fastest U.S. women in the 200m individual medley in 2019. She clocked 2:09.88, beating Alex Walsh by a half-second and Melanie Margalis by .54.

It was Cox’s fastest time since she took bronze at the 2017 World Championships. She missed the 2019 Worlds after failing a 2018 drug test over what she said was a contaminated multivitamin.

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Mikaela Shiffrin among favorites eliminated early in parallel giant slalom

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Mikaela Shiffrin was upset in the round of 16 of the first World Cup parallel giant slalom by unheralded Frenchwoman Clara Direz, who went on to earn her first win on Sunday.

Shiffrin had the fastest qualifying time but was bounced in the second round of head-to-head racing in Sestriere by Direz. Direz, 24, came into the day with a best career finish of seventh.

Direz was 16th-fastest in qualifying, 1.02 seconds behind Shiffrin combining times from two runs. Direz edged Shiffrin by .13 in their head-to-head run. Shiffrin appeared to be at a disadvantage being put on the red course, which produced just three winners among 20 one-run matchups.

“It is fun; I think I like the parallel GS actually more than the parallel slalom, but it’s a little bit difficult,” Shiffrin said. “I think there’s still a lot of work we have to do, and FIS [the International Ski Federation] has to do to really make the race as even as it can be because for sure you can see, there’s always a faster course. But today it’s like they’re not even the same course at all. Especially in the last four, five gates on the blue course, you can even see just looking up the hill that it’s straighter than the red course.

“Today I would say it’s a day where the luck [of which course you draw randomly] really plays a role.”

Direz eventually beat Austrian Elisa Moerzinger in the final. Direz was on the blue course for three of her four one-run rounds. Full results are here.

Higher-ranked racers used to be have their choice of courses in the parallel format.

“Maybe that wasn’t fair, either, but I think there must be a way to make it something that is more even, but at the same time, yeah, I don’t really have the answers on how to do that, either,” Shiffrin said. “It’s still in its infancy, this event.”

Shiffrin has a track record of success in parallel slaloms and similar city events, winning five of her last six starts. But the parallel GS proved problematic for the world’s best in slalom.

Swiss Wendy Holdener and Slovakian Petra Vlhova were also eliminated before the quarterfinals after being second- and third-fastest in qualifying. Holdener was also on the red course. Vlhova lost in the round of 32, when skiers were taking runs on both the blue and red courses.

Sestriere marked the last weekend of technical races (slaloms/giant slaloms) until mid-February. The next three weekends feature downhills and super-Gs. Shiffrin is expected to travel to Bansko, Bulgaria, for the first set on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

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