Rivalry Between King & Efimova Reaches Boiling Point Heading To Final


It all started in Rio.

A young, brash American competing in her first major championship meet saw something she didn’t like. And she spoke up about it.

In the first semi-final of the women’s 100 breast at the 2016 Olympic Games, Russian Yuliya Efimova touched 1st in a time of 1:05.72, and put her finger up signifying that she was number one.

Watching from the ready room, the top seed from prelims, 19-year-old Lilly King, saw Efimova’s gesture and mockingly did it back at her. She then went out, posted a time two one-hundredths faster than the Russian, and wagged her finger once again.

Was this just a competitive rivalry, or was there something more?

There was more. Prior to the Olympics, Efimova had tested positive for meldonium, a drug that increases blood flow in patients with ischemia, but it can also increase an athlete’s exercise capacity. That wasn’t her first offense either, as she was caught for 7-keto-DHEA in 2013, receiving a 13-month suspension and getting stripped of a few world records and medals.

After going through appeals and doing everything she could, Efimova was cleared to compete in Rio just a day prior to action beginning in the pool.

After the semi-final race, King spoke out about Efimova’s past. Asked about the ‘finger wag’, she responded: “You’ve been caught for drug cheating and you wave your finger number one, I’m just not a fan”.

On such a big, international stage, most swimmers would just quietly go about their business. But not King.

The next night in the final they lined up, side-by-side, for the final. King glanced Efimova’s way a few times prior to the start. Once in the water, the American dominated early. King led by nearly half a second at the 50 wall in 30.22, and only increased her lead the rest of the way winning in a new Olympic record time of 1:04.93. Efimova settled for silver in 1:05.50.

Fast forward another year, and they’re back at it again. Efimova was 1:04.82 earlier in the year, and King got close hitting 1:04.95 at U.S. Trials.

Now in Budapest, Efimova missed the world record by a hundredth in the semis, proceeding to wag her finger once again. Swimming in the second semi, King was a tick slower than Efimova’s 1:04.36, clocking 1:04.53 for another best time.

One year after the epic Olympic showdown, what’s in store for tomorrow? A year to simmer. A year to fester. A year for both swimmers to build their confidence. Could there be an actual face-to-face confrontation? I sure hope so. It would make for great television.

Whoever wins tomorrow, whatever happens, this race is going to be an instant classic.

Adding to the spice tomorrow will be the world record holder, Ruta Meilutyte, who has announced her return to the medal picture after finishing 7th in Rio. She was 1:05.06 in the semis, and will be joined by Katie Meili in the battle for (likely) the bronze medal.


After coming out of the gate with a three gold, four medal performance on day 1, the Americans continue to sit atop the medal standings after day 2. They added three medals, including two from first-time World Championship team members.

Kelsi Worrell re-lowered her best time in the women’s 100 fly to 56.37, winning the bronze medal. This is her second medal of the competition after winning gold on the 400 free relay yesterday.

In the women’s 200 IM, Madisyn Cox came through for the bronze medal in a time of 2:09.71, edging out teammate Melanie Margalis. Cox wins a medal in her only event of the competition.

The other American medal came from Kevin Cordes in the men’s 100 breast, as he touched for silver in 58.79. He lowered the American Record in the semi-finals down to 58.64. This is Cordes’ 5th World Championship medal, and the first for the U.S. in the men’s 100 breast in ten years. Brendan Hansen won gold back in 2007 in Melbourne.


  • Cordes: “It feels great, I didn’t get to swim [this race] in 2015, so I’m definitely excited to start off the meet like this. I’ve built a lot of confidence … especially coming off the Olympic year. Being with Team USA and the training camp kind of gets you right back in it – re-motivated. It’s a great atmosphere.”
  • Cordes (on racing next to Adam Peaty): “It was awesome, you know he’s going to go out fast … you kind of just want to stay right there, and hopefully bring it home. I had really nothing to lose, so I just kind of went for it.”
  • Worrell: “It’s just incredible, I’ve just been praying so much after last summer … That was really stressful last night in the semifinal. I knew I had what it takes, but after ninth last year [at the 2016 Olympics], it’s really hard but this race is so good. I’m really thankful, that was an incredible field … I’m just grateful to have gotten my hand on the wall third.”
  • Cox: “I’m not too great at the front of my race, so I just had to push that back half … I knew I was going to go for it at the end and go as hard as I could into the wall. This is my first world championships, long course, and I’m happy … this is just another stepping stone, I want to be better, but that time will come and I just have to keep working hard.”
  • Cox (on seeing her bronze finish): “I honestly was a little surprised, that was my goal, but it was still a little surprising to see that when I touched the wall … but I kept to my game plan and my head down.”

Just missing a medal was Caeleb Dressel, who set an American Record in the 50 fly semi-finals in 22.76. He finished 4th in 22.89.

  • Dressel: “I made one [mistake], and I paid for it. I took a breath that messed me up … messed up my tempo. That’s alright.”


  • Kylie Masse lowered the Canadian National Record in the 100 back, clocking 58.18 to tie the 2nd fastest swim of all-time. She’ll aim for the world record tomorrow night in the final, which stands at 58.12 from Gemma Spofforth in 2009. She leads the field by nearly seven tenths.
  • Masse: “Every opportunity I get to race I give it my all because you never know. I think it didn’t matter if it was prelims, semis or finals, I was just going to try my best. That’s really all I had in mind,” said Masse. “I’m happy with a best time, but being on top of the podium would be cool. I think one of my strong qualities in swimming is my back-end speed, so honestly I think if I still go out the same 50 speed and just really work on my last 50 and the last 15 leading into the wall it will help.”
  • Canadian Sydney Pickrem surprisingly exited the pool after 50m of butterfly in the women’s 200 IM final. She is reportedly fine.
Rank Federation Gold Silver Bronze Total
1 United States of AmericaUnited States of America 3 2 1 6
Total 3 2 1 6

The U.S. leads all countries with six medals. China sits 2nd on the table with 2 golds, while Australia has 3 medals but zero golds.

Canada had a second consecutive 4th place finish today from Penny Oleksiak in the women’s 100 fly. Masse should earn them their first medal tomorrow in the 100 back final.

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6 years ago

Might be a good idea to place a metal detector outside the ready room….

6 years ago

I don’t like either of these swimmers…

E Gamble
6 years ago

My dog wagged his tail at me. Does he have beef? Should I be scared? ? ?

James S Irvin
6 years ago

Lily needs to mature, enough with this nonsense!!!

Peter L
6 years ago

Go Ruta!!!!

E Gamble
6 years ago

OMG. I thought there was some real beef here? I thought maybe Lilly had clapped back at Efimova. Y’all need to stop and just let these girls race. Lol ?

6 years ago

Both were lucky Ruta hasn’t been 100% since 2013

6 years ago

The US has won 2 bronze medals (Worrell and Cox) for a total of 7 medals, not 6.

Reply to  Danjohnrob
6 years ago

That extra bronze medal was donated to China, who exchanged two bronze medals for their 2nd gold medal at the Budapest trading post. #fakenews

About James Sutherland

James Sutherland

James swam five years at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario, specializing in the 200 free, back and IM. He finished up his collegiate swimming career in 2018, graduating with a bachelor's degree in economics. In 2019 he completed his graduate degree in sports journalism. Prior to going to Laurentian, James swam …

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