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Lilly King grounded by her students before resuming Russian rivalry

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Lilly King amassed myriad titles in her four years in college: Olympic champion. World-record holder. Anti-doping advocate. The most recent is Miss King.

King, the world’s greatest and most outspoken breaststroker, spent the spring semester as a physical education teacher at Batchelor Middle School in Bloomington, Ind., near where she trains and studies as a PE major at Indiana University. King’s mom, Ginny, has taught for nearly 30 years after also swimming in college.

“I was pretty much completely in charge of a class, developed their lessons and tests and did their grades,” said King, who spent half-days at Batchelor for four periods in between her morning and afternoon swim practices. “Just like any other teacher would.”

It took two or three weeks for many of the early teens to learn that Miss King was not just another teacher.

“A lot of her kids were probably too young to remember the 2016 Olympics,” said fellow faculty member Sarah Dilts, who has seen King either teaching or observing at Batchelor since King was an Indiana freshman in 2015-16. “Then they realized on Instagram and Twitter that she was verified. They thought it was the coolest thing ever she had a blue check on Instagram.”

King competes an hour north of Batchelor at the FINA Champions Swim Series in Indianapolis on Friday on NBCSN and Saturday on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA. Coverage airs 7-9 ET each night. NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app stream coverage for subscribers.

It will be King’s first head to head with Russian rival Yuliya Efimova since the 2017 World Championships and their first time in the same pool in the U.S.

“That’s what I’m preparing for,” King said, noting a unique meet format with just four swimmers per event. “Looking forward to it if she is there.”

The teaching — including units on pickleball and soccer, as well as some sharbade — is proof of King’s assertion that she is multi-faceted.

King’s supervisor at the IU School of Public Health contacted Dilts last fall for potential placement. Dilts swam for the Hoosiers in the early 2000s and could understand the demands of a student-athlete taking on teaching.

“On and off I’d stop in and see what she was doing with the kids,” Batchelor principal Eric Gilpin said. “If you didn’t know the name, you probably wouldn’t know she was an Olympic athlete because of the way she handled herself.”

Dilts and Gilpin noted in separate interviews that King attended one of the middle school’s swim meets, which was not a requirement. She developed daily lesson plans, even for the weeks she was out of town for the Big Ten and NCAA Championships when other teachers implemented them.

“It may be a few years before she decides to teach [full-time],” Dilts said, “but I think any school would be lucky to have her.”

First, King embarks on a professional swimming career after exhausting her NCAA eligibility this past season. She plans to have a swimwear sponsor before the U.S. team departs for July’s world championships in South Korea.

She followed that finger-wagging, breakthrough Olympic 100m breast title by sweeping the 50m and 100m breast at 2017 Worlds, breaking the world record in each event (the 50m breast is not on the Olympic program). King relegated Efimova to bronze in the 100m and silver in the 50m, but the bitter rivals in Rio embraced in Budapest and appeared to share a joke. Efimova won her trademark event, the 200m breast, with King coming in a respectable fourth in her toughest distance.

“Honestly, at the end of an eight-day meet, we’re all so exhausted we don’t really know what we feel about each other at that point,” King said Wednesday. “It’s kind of difficult being really mean and nasty to someone all the time. We have good races, and we have a good rivalry. I guess there’s no point being nasty if I win.”

King must have felt satisfaction two weeks ago, when she swam the fastest times in the world this year in the 50m and 100m breasts, supplanting Efimova at the top of both rankings. Efimova has the fastest 200m time in the world of swimmers who could race it at worlds. American Annie Lazor, who didn’t make the world team, has the top time by 1.75 seconds.

King hasn’t lost sight of the 200m, even though the 100m is her bread and butter. She remembered coming back to Bloomington in 2016, and while tearfully struggling with the new, overwhelming attention, setting new goals.

“I want to win all the gold medals I can, and I want to set all the world records I can,” she said. King has every Olympic and world championship gold medal and world record available in the 50m and 100m, but none in the 200m. “Pretty simple. Swim the best. Be the best.”

After worlds, King will return to Bloomington and a new challenge: even younger pupils in the fall to fulfill graduation requirements.

“Which is terrifying because elementary school students kind of scare me,” King said. “Kids, you never know what’s going to happen. I always know what’s going to happen with my races.”

MORE: Olympic breaststroke champion retires at age 22

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Dan Hicks, Rowdy Gaines call backyard pool swim race

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Dan Hicks and Rowdy Gaines covered swimming together at the last six Olympics, including every one of Michael Phelps‘ finals, but they’ve never called a “race” quite like this.

“We heard you were looking for something to commentate during the down time….might this short short short course 100 IM help?” tweeted Cathleen Pruden, posting a video of younger sister Mary Pruden, a sophomore swimmer at Columbia University, taking individual medley strokes in what appeared to be an inflatable backyard pool.

“Hang on,” Gaines replied. “This race of the century deserves the right call. @DanHicksNBC and I are working some magic!”

Later, Hicks posted a revised video dubbed with commentary from he and Gaines.

They became the latest commentators to go beyond the booth to post calls on social media while sports are halted due to the coronavirus pandemic.

NBC Sports hockey voice Doc Emrick (who has also called Olympic hockey and water polo) did play-by-play of a windshield wiper installation.

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MORE: Ledecky, Manuel welcome Olympic decision after training in backyard pool

Which athletes are qualified for the U.S. Olympic team?

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Soon after Tokyo Olympic qualifying events began getting postponed, the International Olympic Committee announced that all quota places already allocated to National Olympic Committees and athletes will remain with those NOCs and athletes.

The IOC repeated that position over the last week, after the Tokyo Games were postponed (now to open July 23, 2021). What does that mean for the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee?

Well, 76 athletes qualified for the U.S. Olympic team before the Olympic postponement was announced. That full list is here.

Those 76 athletes can be separated into two categories.

  • Athletes who earned Olympic spots BY NAME via International Federation (i.e. International Surfing Association or International Aquatics Federation) selection procedures.
  • Athletes named to the U.S. Olympic team by their national governing body (i.e. USA Swimming or USA Track and Field) and confirmed by the USOPC using NGB selection procedures after the NGB earned a quota spot.

When the IOC says “all quota places already allocated to National Olympic Committees and athletes will remain with those NOCs and athletes,” it means just that. USA Softball still has 15 athlete quota spots from qualifying a full team via international results. Surfer Kolohe Andino still has his Olympic spot from qualifying BY NAME via the International Surfing Association selection procedures route.

USA Softball named its 15-player Olympic roster last fall. Those 15 athletes did not earn Olympic quota spots for themselves. Unlike Andino (and 13 other American qualifiers across all sports), the 15 softball players had to be nominated by USA Softball and confirmed by the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee.

Unless and until the USOPC confirms that any of those other 62 athletes remain qualified, for now the list of U.S. Olympic qualifiers is these 14 who qualified BY NAME:

Karate (1)
Sakura Kokumai

Modern Pentathlon (2)
Samantha Achterberg
Amro Elgeziry

Swimming (3)
Haley Anderson
Ashley Twichell
Jordan Wilimovsky

Sport Climbing (4)
Kyra Condie
Brooke Raboutou
Nathaniel Coleman
Colin Duffy

Surfing (4)
Caroline Marks
Carissa Moore
Kolohe Andino
John John Florence

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MORE: Qualified athletes go into limbo with Tokyo postponement