2018 Pan Pacs Preview: Moment Of Truth For Lilly King In 200 Breast

2018 PAN PACIFIC CHAMPIONSHIPS

Just like on the men’s side, expect the women’s breaststroke events to come down between the United States and Japan.

Olympic champion Lilly King‘s first event at last week’s U.S. Nationals in Irvine, CA didn’t quite go as well as she’d hoped for. The defending champion finished the 200 breaststroke in a disappointing 5th place (2:25.31) – slower than her season best (2:24.83), 3.5 seconds slower than her winning time from 2017, and over 3 seconds behind winner Micah Sumrall (2:22.06). For someone as fiercely competitive as King, needless to say that didn’t sit very well with her. Thus, she followed it up with a commanding victory in her more-favored event – the 100 breast (1:05.36) – punching her ticket to Pan Pacs and posting the 2nd fastest time in the world this year behind Russian rival Yulia Efimova (1:04.98).

Barring anything extreme, a King victory in the 100 breast in Tokyo is all but certain. After all, she is the defending Olympic and World champion and World Record holder (1:04.13). Since bursting onto the scene in 2016, she has yet to lose this race in a significant international competition.

Reona Aoki 2017 World Championships Budapest, Hungary (photo: Mike Lewis)

The more interesting storyline to watch in this race is the battle for 2nd between Japan’s Reona Aoki and USA’s Katie Meili. On paper, Meili has to get the nod. Not only does her lifetime best of 1:05.03 make her the 6th fastest performer of all time, but she is also the 2016 Olympic bronze medalist and 2017 World Championship silver medalist. In a meet without Efimova, this should be a King-Meili 1-2 punch. Should is the key word. Having recently finished her first year of law school at Georgetown University, Meili wasn’t even sure whether or not she would be able to swim this year – balancing school and training. After a 1:06.19 at U.S. Nationals, clearly she has still been able to excel in the pool. However, there could be just enough space open for Aoki to pounce for the silver medal. The 23 year-old fired off a personal best of 1:05.90 at the Japan Swim (Japanese National Championships) in April – narrowly missing Kanako Watanabe‘s national record of 1:05.88. That time crushed the 1:07.43 she swam last summer in Budapest, leaving her out of the World Championship final.

Objectively, picking King to win the 200 might turn a few heads. By her standards, she was pedestrian at U.S. Nationals with a 5th place finish (2:25.31), and her season best (2:24.83) is nearly 3 seconds away from the field in Tokyo. However, compared to the rest of the competition, she is likely the one that hasn’t shown all of her cards yet this season and has the most room to improve. The confident King proclaimed back in March at the NCAA Championships that this summer is her “big 200 summer.” While she was pleased with her improvements from 2016 to 2017, she ultimately “wants to medal and wants to win.” With that, combined with the bitter taste from Nationals and the desire to prove she is the best across all 3 distances (50-100-200), King will be on a mission in Tokyo. Realistically, if she can match – or slightly improve – her best time of 2:21.83 from last summer’s Nationals then she will be in the hunt for a title.

Unlike the 100, King will have to pull out all of the stops to overcome the likes of Aoki, Sumrall, Bethany Galat, Kierra Smith, Watanabe, and others. The 21 year-old Watanabe is the gold medalist from the 2015 World Championships in Kazan (2:21.15; lifetime best – 2:20.90), but she hasn’t been as relevant over the last couple of years. Most recently, she is the 2017 World University Games champion (2:24.15) and swam a 2:22.88 at April’s Japan Swim to qualify for this team. Canada’s 2016 Olympic finalist Smith placed 5th last summer at Worlds with a lifetime best of 2:22.23 and has the ability to contend. American duo Sumrall and Galat are compelling for different reasons. Sumrall (formerly Lawrence) disappeared from the sport following a disappointing 4th place finish at the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials. Combined with the fact her lifetime best came from 2013, it seemed as if the newly-married Sumrall was moving on from the sport. Nope. She came back this year to dominate the field at Nationals – winning in a time of 2:22.06 – just several tenths off her best. However, how much room does she have to improve from that? Galat, on the other hand, had a breakout 2017 – claiming the silver medal at Worlds (2:21.77) to become the 3rd fastest American performer of all time (behind Rebecca Soni and Sumrall). She has yet to get back down to that mark, though – swimming her season best of 2:23.32 for 3rd place at U.S. Nationals. Just like the 100, Aoki is the hot hand this year, swimming her lifetime best of 2:21.85 in April at the Japan Swim. While she doesn’t have a substantial amount of international experience, she clearly has the ability to put up substantial times.

MEDALIST PICKS

100 Breast

Medal Name Nation Season-Best Lifetime-Best
Gold Lilly King USA 1:05.36 1:04.13
Silver Reona Aoki Japan 1:05.90 1:05.90
Bronze Katie Meili USA 1:06.19 1:05.03

200 Breast

Medal Name Nation Season-Best Lifetime-Best
Gold Lilly King USA 2:24.83 2:21.83
Silver Reona Aoki Japan 2:21.85 2:21.85
Bronze Micah Sumrall USA 2:22.06 2:21.74

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Hswimmer

I think Micah has more in the tank after her comeback. We could see 2:20 from her. King can’t cruise prelims because she has to fight with Galat! It will be close between those 2, we will see who wants it more.

Maverick

I wouldn’t quite say a King victory is all but certain….. A hell of a lot can happen in 2 years. Take a look at Phelps 2014-2016. Mitch Larkin 2014-2016. Ervin 2014-2016. Peaty 2014-2016…

EMH16

pretty sure they mean tokyo as in pan pacs right now, not in two years…

Maverick

True true. Whoops.

Taa

Nats had to be frustrating for her. I’m gonna say she doesn’t get it done in the 200

Dude36

She is on the wrong side of improvements now…sad but true she may win here but not many more wins in her especially against Yulia the Moolia

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