2019 World Champs Preview: The 50 Breast, Featuring Lilly King & Yulia Efimova


  • All sports: Friday, July 12 – Sunday, July 28, 2019
  • Pool swimming: Sunday, July 21 – Sunday, July 28, 2019
  • The Nambu University Municipal Aquatics Center, Gwangju, Korea
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  • FinaTV Live Stream
  • Live results

Women’s 50m Breaststroke

Lilly King 2017 World Championships Budapest, Hungary (photo: Mike Lewis)

In the sport’s most infamous rivalry, Lilly King and Yulia Efimova will meet up yet again in the 50 breast at the Gwangju World Championships just days away. Both swimmers have near-equal accomplishments in the event, ranging from holding the world record to snagging the world title. Here’s a simple breakdown of their feats in the event.

King has more one-ups on Efimova with her most recent World title, days with the world record, and being 2-0 in their 50 breast final meet-ups. However, Efimova has broken the 30-second barrier more often than King. Efimova’s career spans nearly 11 years, with her first major international competition at the 2008 European Championships. King, on the other hand, is 5 years younger than Efimova and had her first major international competition at the 2014 Junior Pan Pacs.

Swimmer 50 BR World Title Days with WR* Sub-30 Swims Times Won**
Lilly King (USA) 2017 710 10 2
Yulia Efimova (RUS) 2013 >1 17 0

*Since July 10, 2019 **Against one another: 2017 Worlds, FINA Champions Series

Looking into this year, King is at the top of the world rankings with a season best of 29.63. Efimova is ranked at #2 with a 29.93. With Efimova’s lifetime best at 29.52 from her 2013 World title, she still is very much a threat to King and her 29.40 world record.

Out of the 2019 contenders, King and Efimova are the lone 2 swimmers who have been under the 30-second barrier. Yet the race for the bronze medal is on between many contenders. Among the contenders is 14-year-old Italian record-holder Benedetta Pilato. Pilato burst onto the scene this year with her numerous 30-second swims, progressively moving up in the Italian rankings. Yet at the 2019 Sette Colli Trophy, Pilato skyrocketed to become the 13th-fastest performer all-time in the event with a national record of 30.13. Ranked 3rd in the world behind King and Efimova, Pilato will once again have a shot at improving even more with the breaking looming 30-second barrier and earning a medal.

Alia Atkinson 100 breaststroke at the FINA Short Course Worlds Windsor, Canada (photo: Mike Lewis)

Yet behind the young teenager is Jamaican Alia Atkinson, who is the defending 2018 short course world champion. Like King, Atkinson holds both short course breaststroke world records at 28.56 and 1:02.36. In her last Worlds appearance in 2015, Atkinson settled for silver in the 50 breast with her current lifetime best of 30.11. Her season best this year stands at 30.58, which is ranked 7th in the world.

Along with the young Pilato, Martina Carraro will join her to make a statement for the Italian breaststrokers. Carraro’s first Worlds appearance was all the way in 2009, where she finished 37th in the 50 breast (31.98). In 2015 and 2017, Carraro improved to semi-final both times with 13th and 16th place finishes respectively. At the 2018 SC World Championships, Carraro earned her first major international individual medal with a bronze in the 50 breast. This season, Carraro swam a lifetime best of 30.45 at the 2019 Italian Spring Nationals, ranking 6th in the world.

Photo by: Kjell Eirik Henanger

Right on their tails is Finnish native Ida Hulkko, who is already looking ahead with her redshirt decision to focus on the 2020 Olympics. At the 2018 European Championships, Hulkko finished in 5th place in the 50 breast a second behind winner Efimova. Hulkko’s first major international meet was at the 2018 SC World Championships, where she took 8th in the 50 breast final. Later at the 2019 NCAA Championships, Hulkko finished 4th in the 100 breast representing Florida State. This season, Hulkko ranks 8th in the world with a 30.66, just 0.13s off her lifetime best of 30.53.

Looking to add more to her international medal count is Aussie breaststroker Jessica Hansen. At the 2017 World Championships, Hansen just missed out on the final with her 9th place finish of 30.67. The same meet, she was a member of the bronze-medal winning 400 medley relay. At the 2018 SC Worlds, Hansen made the final and finished in 6th place. Although ranked 13th in the world with a 30.82, her lifetime best of 30.59 makes her promising to swim in her first long course Worlds individual final.

Fanny Lecluyse 2019 Sette Colli Trophy Rome – photo by Rafael Domeyko

In the same fashion, Belgian swimmer Fanny Lecluyse is on her way to making her first long course Worlds final. In 2015, Lecluyse finished 10th in the 50 breast. She bettered her performance at the 2018 SC Worlds with her 7th place finish in the 50 breast final. Her season best of 30.92 ranks 16th in the world, yet her lifetime best of 30.75 and recent SC Worlds final is a motivator to pursue the 2019 top 8.

While more dominant in the longer breaststroke events, Spaniard Jessica Vall has much potential to make the top 8 in the 50 breast. Her lone World medal came from the 2015 edition of the meet, where she earned a bronze medal in the 200 breast. More recently at the 2018 Spanish Open, Vall set a new national record with a 30.89, ranking her 15th in the world.

Top 8 Picks:

Place Swimmer Country Season-Best Lifetime-Best
1 Lilly King USA 29.63 29.40
2 Yulia Efimova Russia 29.93 29.52
3 Alia Atkinson Jamaica 30.58 30.11
4 Benedetta Pilato Italy 30.13 30.13
5 Martina Carraro Italy 30.45 30.45
6 Ida Hulkko Finland 30.66 30.53
7 Jessica Hansen Australia 30.82 30.59
8 Fanny Lecluyse Belgium 30.92 30.75

Darkhorse: Ready to improve on her 20th place finish in 2017 is NC State and Swede swimmer Sophie Hansson. At the 2019 ACCs, Hansson took titles in the 100/200 breast along with being a part of the winning 200 and 400 medley relays. The rising sophomore earned three bronzes at the 2019 NCAAs in the 100/200 breast and 200 medley relay. Although ranked 17th in the world with a 30.95, her lifetime best of 30.72 plus NCAA feats makes her more than capable of being a top 8 contender.

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1 year ago

I understand that British Swimming get their funding based purely on Olympic results, and to their credit they’re consistent in not picking stroke 50s swimmers, but could procedure not be put into place for people like Imogen Clark? 30.0, would have a great shot at winning a medal, doesnt get the chance.


1. King
2. Efimova
3. Pilato

1 year ago

No Katie 🙁

1 year ago

I’d love to see Pilato or Atkinson win. King has a lot of speed, but so does Atkinson and she has a better start. Pilato is young who knows she could chop off another half second.

About Nick Pecoraro

Nick Pecoraro

Nick Pecoraro has had a huge passion for swimming since his first dive in the pool, instantly becoming drawn to the sport. He was a breaststroker and IMer when competing, but still uses the sport as his go-to cardio. SwimSwam has become an outlet for him to continue showing his …

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