Lilly King launches attack on Yulia Efimova after winning gold and teammate Justin Gatlin
The controversial Russian swimmer Yulia Efimova and the American who condemned her drug cheating were involved in a dramatic and emotional press conference confrontation late on Monday with Efimova’s adversary repeating her view that she should have never have been competing in Rio de Janeiro.
Efimova was deeply distressed after American Lilly King beat her into second place in the women’s 100m breaststroke final and was on the brink of tears throughout a subsequent press conference in which she said that she was being victimised for “mistakes” she had made in her past.
But the event, which had echoes of the Cold War, saw 19-year-old King refused to be moved. In another outspoken attack on doping – which included her declaring that the USA’s convicted drug cheat Justin Gatlin should not be in the USA’s squad – she said she could not shake hands after the race with someone she had criticised.
“I’m just happy for the USA to know I am competing clean and doing what is right,” King said, after beating Efimova by more than half a second, and smashing the world record with a time of 1:04.93. “There was a lot of pressure obviously, just going in there. Pressure on me because I was saying what I believe is right. I felt I had to perform better than I did in the past.”
The rivalry between the pair was intensified by them appearing in adjacent lanes – four and five – but King quickly made away from her own lane at the end to congratulate other competitors.
“I was really in the moment and if I was in Yulia’s position I would not want to be congratulated by someone who was criticising me,” King said, sitting a few metres away from Efimova and offering no eye contact. “If she wanted to be congratulated I apologise.”
When it was put to her that Gatlin’s place in the USA team allowed no scope for the national team to preach, King said: “I have to respect their decision. I think people who are caught on doping offences should not be on the team. No they shouldn’t. We should settle this and it should be the end of it. There should not be any bouncing back and forth.”
King also said she respected Australian Mack Horton for taking a similar anti-doping stance against the Chinese swimmer Sun Yang, who won his 400m freestyle on Monday night. “[Respect] to him for speaking out first,” said Efimova. “He said what everyone was thinking and I said what everything was thinking.”
Efimova’s distress after losing a race which she lost after being loudly booed led her to spend at least a minute in the embrace of a woman companion in the player/media mixed zone afterwards. Speaking in the English she picked up during four years based in the USA, she then insisted she was clean.
“I once made mistakes and I was banned for 16 months,” she said. “Second time it was not my fault. If Wada say tomorrow they are banning yoghurt or animal protein or stuff that other people use and they ban this and you stop, [what happens next?] This comes out of your body for six months and if doping control come after two months and it is still in your body, is this your fault?”
Asked if she thought Gatlin’s apparent escape from censure suggested double standards, she said: “I don’t know what’s happened with different athletes [like Gatlin]. I do not have time to watch what is going on with different athletes.”
The struggle to compose and express herself led Efimova to begin speaking in Russian at one stage, when her criticism of King’s stance was more pointed.
“All newspaper and TV get the stories they need to write,” she said. “But they are not true. I understand some athletes do that (dope) but athletes are [not involved] in politics. It’s very sad and I’m upset that some athletes don’t believe that [I am clean]. They watch TV and act on that. They want change. They can’t imagine what it would feel like to change places with me.
“Those athletes who know me and see me in training and know I do my best. I do all I can. I put all my effort in. It is very upsetting when politics enter sport. I want my fellow athletes to understand each other and not let politics come into it.
“I don’t know what happens in politics. I have been training in the USA for the last four years and have been in Russia maybe one month a year. I can’t understand what is going on. I don’t know what’s going on in Russia and I don’t believe it. I don’t know what’s going on but this is really. They can’t find a way how to beat Russia and maybe they use athletes but this is not fair.”
Independent News Service