Who Is Lilly King? The Olympic Swimmer Made A Gesture That Became An Internet Sensation
Olympic swimmers are diving in Monday night for the women's 100-meter breaststroke competition. All eyes will be on two swimmers — one who was implicated in the Russian state-sanctioned doping scandal, and the other, an American athlete who expressed her disdain toward the former on Sunday. Who is Lilly King, whose finger-wag became an internet sensation?
The 19-year-old Olympian has been swimming since the age of seven. According to her bio on USA Swimming, she explained, "I had so much energy when I was younger, swimming was the only thing that would calm me down." Though King may be calm in the water, she's anything but slow; the breaststroke expert qualified for the U.S. Olympic Team by winning first place in both the 100-meter and 200-meter breaststroke trials leading up to the Games. In the preliminary heats before Monday's contest, King placed first once again, clocking in at one minute, 5.78 seconds.
Second in the prelims was Russia's Yulia Efimova, who is being allowed to compete despite reportedly having tested positive for the performance-enhancing drug meldonium twice, once this year after being suspended on the same charge for 16 months. Later in the evening, Efimova placed first in her semifinal qualifying round, and raised her finger in a "Number One" fashion. King responded by wagging her finger at the TV screen. According to NBC Olympics, King commented concerning the scandal: "If that's what she feels she needs to be able to compete, whatever, that's her deal. I'm here to compete clean for the U.S. and that's what I'm going to do." Efimova finished second in the semifinals, just .02 seconds behind King.
This adds an element of drama to Monday's race, where King and Efimova will be swimming alongside one another for victory. A win for King would add to the college sophomore's already-impressive record; she placed first in 2016's NCAA 100-yard and 200-yard breaststroke competitions for Indiana and landed second-place in the 100-meter event at the 2015 Phillips 66 Nationals, along with other strong performances in breaststroke competitions.
King majors in physical education at Indiana University, and aspires to be a coach. She's got some quirky eating habits for a pro athlete; she loves biscuits and gravy, according to her bio, and opts for a can of Coke before each race: "Everybody else drinks coffee, and I don't like coffee," she explained. King also has an affinity for McDonald's, which became a subject of discussion after she brought some of the fast food to a swim team meeting in 2015.
King's comments about Efimova, her primary competition, frame Monday's race on the questionable decision by the Court of Arbitration for Sport to allow Efimova and her fellow Russian athletes to compete, along with ethical issues around doping in professional sports more broadly. For King, it seems that a win in the breaststroke competition would be about more than another athletic victory, but a moral one as well.