2016 Rio Olympics Preview: King Eyeing Meilutyte’s 100 Breast Throne


Ruta Meilutyte was just 15 when she denied American breaststroke sensation Rebecca Soni an Olympic title in the 100 breast in London. Meilutyte, though born in Lithuania, was home (in a way) in London. She trains with Plymouth Leander, a club located a few hours drive west of England’s capital.

Meilutyte set the world record in the 100 breast at the 2013 World Championships bu has since battled injury after breaking her elbow and getting subsequent surgery last fall. Rio won’t be very much like home, and no longer carrying the aura of a young underdog, the Lithuanian 19-year-old will have her hands full with… well, another 19-year-old. Her name is Lilly King, and she is ready for the biggest test of her career in Rio.

King has stormed to relevance over the last year or so– she was a highly-touted recruit in high school, one of the only sub-1:00 breaststrokers in the class of 2015. After one season with Ray Looze and the Indiana Hoosiers, she blew past American records in the 100y and 200y breaststrokes, dominating at the NCAA championships. “Experience” doesn’t seem to be a requirement for King, who handily defeated a field at the 2016 Olympic Trials that included 2012 Olympian Breeja Larson, American record holder Jessica Hardy, and 2015 Pan American Games champion Katie Meili.

King and Meilutyte are separated by just over a month in age, and in Rio, hundredths could separate two of the fastest (and youngest) sprint breaststrokers in the world. While Meilutyte has experience, the world record, and an Olympic crown to boast, King has been on fire recently, continues to improve, and is not a swimmer to back down from a challenge.

Katie Meili (photo: Tim Binning)

Katie Meili (photo: Tim Binning)

Katie Meili, who’s just as new to the international stage as King (both went to their first senior level international meet last summer– Meili at Pan Ams, King at World University Games), put up the fifth fastest time this season with her 1:06.07 from Trials. She sped her way to a 1:05.64 last summer in Toronto, but that was done in prelims. She added almost six tenths in the final, however, and adding time in an Olympic final doesn’t usually yield medals. That said, she was faster in semifinals in this event at Trials than she was in prelims, and then was faster yet in the final to take the 2nd Olympic team spot behind King. Meili looks to have gained more racing experience under high pressure, which will certainly help in Rio.

Yulia Efimova. Russia has included her on their approved roster for Rio, and after an oddly long wait to hear the verdict, FINA has dropped the charges against her. Despite having tested positive for banned substances twice now in her career, FINA has cleared her to swim in Rio, and she will be a gold medal threat. Efimova has been 1:05.70, and while it’s unclear if she’s been training full-force for Rio in the midst of her doping scandal, she looks very likely to medal. Things are heating up, too, as Meilutyte called out FINA for the Efimova verdict on Twitter. In a sport that regularly fails to appeal to mass audiences outside of swimmers, coaches, and parents, this could turn out to be one of the most entertaining races of the Olympics with Efimova’s storyline.

Alia Atkinson by Mike Lewis

Alia Atkinson (photo: Mike Lewis)

Jamaica’s Alia Atkinson has been smashing through barriers (both racial and time-wise) since December of 2014 when she set the world record in the 100 SCM breast. At the 2014 World SC Championships in Doha, she tied Meilutyte’s SCM WR (which FINA recognizes as a new record) and out-touched the Lithuanian by a tenth to become the first black person to earn a world swimming title. Then, last summer, her bronze medal in this race at the Kazan World Championships made her the first Jamaican swimmer to medal at a World Championships. Her 1:05.93 from November was a new lifetime best, and a sub-1:06 performance in Rio could mean a minor medal.

Kanako Watanabe, Japanese record holder, is a big name out of the group of 1:06’s that have peppered the international scene this season. She, like King and Meilutyte, is just 19 years old, though she made an appearance in the 200 breast in London at 15 like the Lithuanian. She’s been under 1:06 in her career, but focuses more on the 200 breast and 200 IM. She was 4th behind Atkinson in Kazan, .01 from bronze, and should be a player in this field in the Olympic final.

Two swimmers from the northern realm of Europe will look for spots in the finals, too: Hrafnhildur Luthersdottir of Iceland and Jennie Johansson of Sweden. Luthersdottir, a University of Florida grad, won silver at Euros behind Meilutyte, while Johansson swam to a new Swedish record in the 100 breast (1:06.63) at the Australian Trials in April.

A couple more 1:06’s this season to watch for: Georgia Bohl of Australia and Shi Jinglin of China. Bohl is young and a bit of a wild card, but her 1:06.12 from the Aussie Trials suggest a 1:05 next to her name is coming soon. Shi, meanwhile, was 5th in the final in Kazan last summer, touching ahead of Luthersdottir and Johansson.

Place Swimmer Country Best Time (Since 2012 Olympics) Predicted Time in Rio
1 Ruta Meilutyte Lithuania  1:04.35  1:05.0
2 Lilly King USA  1:05.20  1:05.1
3 Yulia Efimova Russia  1:05.93  1:05.7
3 Alia Atkinson Jamaica  1:05.93  1:05.8
4 Katie Meili USA  1:05.64  1:06.3
5 Kanako Watanabe Japan  1:05.98  1:06.5
6 Georgia Bohl Australia  1:06.12  1:06.7
7 Shi Jinglin China  1:06.39  1:07.1
8 Hrafnhildur Luthersdottir Iceland  1:06.45  1:07.2

**UPDATE** Yulia Efimova is one of the Russian swimmers who FINA has claimed will NOT be allowed to compete in the Olympics due to previous usage of a banned substance, which is why her name has been struck through.

Dark Horse: Jennie Johansson of Sweden is another swimmer who has posted a sub-1:07 in the past year. The Swedish record holder posted a lifetime best of 1:06.63 at the 2016 Australian Trials this spring.


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6 years ago


6 years ago

Lilly King 100% no question, called this on Efimova’s article about her fast practice time a while back and absolutely sticking to it

6 years ago

I think Atkinson has something to prove after sc worlds..
1. King
2. Ruta
3. Atkinson
4. Meili

6 years ago

Whoever bets responsibly I would recommend to stay away from Meilutyte. What’s happened in Kazan may be explainable but is absolutely unacceptable. In semi Efimova and Meilutyte showed same time (1:05.60 and 1:05.64 respectively). In final Ruta started much faster hoping that she can repeat what she did in London (30.27) and failed miserably at finish totaling 1:06.36. When Efimova just repeated one to one the previous race (1:05.66). It would be all fine (things happen in finals and chosen tactics could be mistaken) if Ruta and her coach haven’t started immediately to blame the defeat on psychological factor of Efimova’s presence in the race. Neither Ruta nor her coach admitted own failure to handle the stress situation. Whatever I’ve… Read more »

Attila the Hunt
Reply to  Prickle
6 years ago

Do not let Bobo hear that Efimova started much slower than Ruta and yet still win.
It breaks his argument.

Reply to  Attila the Hunt
6 years ago

Efimova – 1:05.66 (30.76 – 34.90)
Meilutyte – 1:06.36 (30.27 – 36.09)

Efimova – 1:05.60 (30.70 – 34.90)
Meilutyte – 1:05.64 (30.60 – 35.04)

Attila the Hunt
Reply to  Prickle
6 years ago

Thank you!

Wow. Meilutyte start was indeed so much faster than Efimova and yet Efimova won the race.

Reply to  Prickle
6 years ago

How do you know that Ruta and her coach blamed the loss in Kazan on Efimova’s presence?

Reply to  NotSoFastSwimmer
6 years ago

Not from Ruta personally, but from what her coach said publicly assessing her performance in Kazan and referring to her reaction after race. I got this information from articles that followed coaching clinics. I think they are reliable. If it is important I can look for those articles, but they are about one year old.

Reply to  Prickle
6 years ago

Whatever caused this instability, but she was 0.08 away of being without medals at all.
And she isn’t the first day in the pool not knowing her limitations and what the best racing plan for her is. This drop of the speed at the end can be well explained by emotional or mental issues.

6 years ago

Ruta and Queen Lilly combined dominance <3.
Maybe they can both tie for gold. And tweet about it.

6 years ago

Dark horses are the Italians and especially for me Castiglioni. She was 8th in Kazan with an 1.06.95 semifinal time and she has 1.07.15 this year. I think she can swim 1.06.5 or lower. In general I predict that at least 3 swimmers will be faster in semifinals than in the final so I see 1-2 1.07s. I want Meilutite to win but this year everyone except Efimova.

6 years ago

Lily King’s coach Ray Looze will be with her at the Olympics.

To be one of the favorites at the Olympics is a heady proposition for a newcomer in the international spotlight.

She’ll have the comfort of her coach by her side as she navigates the turbulence of Olympic competition.

Reply to  marklewis
6 years ago

Nothing is as nerve wracking as United States Olympic trials

Reply to  BackstrokerLCM
6 years ago

Even an Olympic Gold Medalist said that US trials is harder than the Olympics… Darien Townsend for those who missed that article

6 years ago

1. Efimova 59.81
2. Efimova’s Syringe 1:00.12
3. Efimova’s excuse that someone switched the contents of her syringe from Orange Juice to Bull Shark Testosterone 1:01.31

About Karl Ortegon

Karl Ortegon

Karl Ortegon studied sociology at Wesleyan University in Middletown, CT, graduating in May of 2018. He began swimming on a club team in first grade and swam four years for Wesleyan.

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