Lilly King Says Russians Should Not Have Been in Tokyo
Five years after an Olympic debut when Lilly King won gold in the 100 breaststroke and then declared that her closest rival, silver medalist Yuliya Efimova of Russia, should not have been competing at the Games, King mostly avoided any controversial statements during the swimming portion of the Tokyo Games as she swam to bronze in the 100 breast and silver in the 200 breast. But in the hours after the Olympic swimming competition concluded in Tokyo, King addressed one of the controversies of the last few days and unsurprisingly came down against possible doping in the sport.
After Friday’s 200 backstroke final, American silver medalist Ryan Murphy expressed frustration about Russian swimmers being allowed to compete in Tokyo despite the country’s official ban from the Games for running a state-sponsored doping program. Murphy cited a conversation with FINA executive director Brent Nowicki as he basis for his conviction that the Olympics were not free from the stain of doping. “It is a huge mental drain on me to go throughout the year that I’m swimming in a race that’s probably not clean, and that is what it is,” Murphy said Friday.
In a Sunday evening press conference in Tokyo, King was given the chance to respond, and never one to back down from her opinions, she voiced her concerns. According to reports from the Associated Press and Sports Illustrated, King did not criticize Russia specifically, but the implication was clear.
“As long as there’s been athletics, there’s been doping,” King said, according to Sports Illustrated. “Obviously we’re working on cleaning that up. I’m sure there were a lot of people competing this week from certain countries who probably shouldn’t have been here.”
Russian swimmers were allowed to compete in Tokyo under the flag of the “Russian Olympic Committee,” but no prominent Russian swimmers were left home from the Games, and their uniforms and caps were still in Russian colors. Given that the only swimmers who beat Murphy in individual events this week were representing the ROC, his frustrations with the situation were understandable, and it was no surprise to see King weighing in, given her past.
No Russian swimmers beat King in any events this week, although Efimova was in the 100 breast final and Evgeniia Chikunova took fourth in both breaststroke events — and in fact, King’s good friend and teammate Annie Lazor only got by Chikunova by 0.04 to claim bronze in the 200 breast final, so this issue may have directly affected King should the race have unfolded only marginally different.
“I try not to think about that. But also, I wasn’t competing against anyone from a country that should have been banned and got a slap on the wrist and a rebranding of their national flag,” King said, according to SI. “Personally I wasn’t affected, but I know Ryan was. I feel like that has tainted your Games, and for that I’m so sorry. But, yeah, there are a lot of people here who shouldn’t be here.”
Russian Olympic Committee officials have taken issue with these stances against their team and the implications that the Russians competing in Tokyo were unclean. After Murphy’s comments Friday, the ROC released a dramatic, sarcastic statement implying that other countries were simply unnerved by Russian success at the Games. And Sunday, ROC president Stanislav Pozdnyakov said, according to the AP, that critics “supposed that as a matter of fact our athletes can’t compete without doping,” but that Russian athletes in Tokyo “proved the opposite not just with words but with their deeds and results.”