Yulia Efimova finished a distant third in the Russian Olympic Trials 200m breaststroke and, barring an exception, will not swim her best event at the Olympics, missing a second showdown with American Lilly King in Tokyo.
Efimova, 29, finished second in the 100m breast earlier at Russia’s trials and is in line to swim that event in Tokyo, which she said will likely be her last Olympics, according to Russian media.
She has raced both the 100m and 200m breast at every Olympics and world championships since 2008 and earned a medal in nine of the 10 races dating to the 2013 Worlds.
Efimova, the two-time reigning world champion and second-fastest woman in history in the 200m breast, clocked 2:24.16 in that final on Thursday, 4.75 seconds off her personal best from 2013.
She was 2.53 seconds behind winner Yevgeniya Chikunova and 1.4 seconds behind runner-up Mariya Temnikova.
A nation may enter no more than two swimmers in an individual event at the Olympics. Typically, that’s the top two finishers at an Olympic Trials.
In 2019, Efimova was also third in the 200m breast at Russian Nationals, also behind Chikunova and Temnikova. Efimova replaced the national champion Chikunova on the roster for world championships. Chikunova, then 14, went to the junior worlds instead and swept the 100m and 200m breast titles.
At senior worlds, Efimova repeated as gold medalist, this time by a whopping 2.35 seconds.
After her third-place finish on Thursday, Efimova said she will do what she’s told and wished luck to the other swimmers, while also noting the 25-year-old Temnikova’s bare major international record save one European Championships, according to Sport-Express. Temnikova won the 200m breast at the 2019 European Short Course Championships (25-meter pool).
In 2016, Efimova was initially barred from the Olympics under an IOC mandate that any Russian who previously served a doping ban would be ineligible due to the country’s anti-doping violations at that time.
She appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), which ruled that IOC stipulation unenforceable.
Efimova was banned 16 months between 2013 and 2015 after testing positive for a steroid. A FINA panel ruled that Efimova was not intentionally trying to cheat but was negligent in failing to read the label of a GNC store supplement. She relied on a salesperson’s assurance after asking if it was “doping-free.”
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 breast the next night.
“You’ve been caught for drug cheating, I’m just not a fan,” King memorably said in Rio, adding after the Games, “[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.”
King and Efimova, while dueling at the last two world championships, have embraced.
King’s primary event is the 100m breast. She is the reigning Olympic and world champion and world-record holder. Efimova, after silver in Rio, took bronze and silver in the 100m breast behind King at worlds in 2017 and 2019.
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