Brennan: Lilly King beats Russian, ‘knowing I did it clean’ – USA TODAY
USA TODAY Sports’ Martin Rogers breaks down likely highlights from the Rio Games on Aug. 9.
USA TODAY Sports
RIO DE JANEIRO â With the wag of a finger and a cascade of boos, the months-long Russian doping controversy has come to life at the Olympic Aquatics Center.
The swimming venue has become the crossroads of a morality play that harkens back to the days of the Cold War. A 100-meter race between two breaststrokers has turned into a metaphor for the endless bickering between East and West. A battle of words and frog kicks has become the culmination of the growing antagonism between the Russian state-sponsored doping machine and those nations around the world that have spoken out forcefully against it.
The race itself Monday evening was a simple contest between RussianÂ Yulia EfimovaâÂ the twice-banned 2012 Olympic bronze medalist and world champion who was suspended from these Olympic Games, then mysteriously brought back hours before she was to compete âÂ and AmericanÂ Lilly King, who boldly spoke for many Olympic athletes in her open condemnation of Efimovaâs presence here.
King, a 19-year-old swimmer atÂ Indiana University, was the winner by more than half a second, powering to the wall ahead of Efimova, then twice pounding the water in Efimovaâs lane.
âItâs incredible, just winning a gold medal, and knowing I did it clean,â King said.
The night before, Efimova and King engaged in a finger-wagging battle, and when King was asked about it, she pointedly did not back down.
âYou know, you’re shaking your finger No. 1 and you’ve been caught for drug cheating,â King said of Efimova to NBC. âI’m just not, you know, not a fan.â
King is not alone. Thereâs never been much booing in swimming âÂ except for this week when a Russian is announced on the pool deck. Efimova is by far the boo-birdsâ biggest target. The reaction is especially intense from the sections of the arena where swimmers from other countries are sitting.
What exactly are they booing? Itâs easy to get confused about whoâs cheating in what these days, but hereâs how to differentiate between Efimova and, say, disgraced cyclistÂ Lance Armstrong.
Armstrong was not part of a state-sponsored doping program. Efimova is.Â Armstrong actively deceived his national drug-testing system. Efimova was a product of hers.
To put this in understandable terms, letâs take what the Russians did and see how it would look if it had happened in the United States:
The cheating would have been led by theÂ Health and Human ServicesÂ secretary, a member ofÂ President Obamaâs cabinet, and would have includedÂ theÂ U.S. Olympic Committee,Â the FBI or the CIA (or both) andÂ the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. It would have involved hundreds of U.S. athletes from all Olympic sports, winter and summer. It would have gone on for five years, and resulted in the outright stealing of dozens if not hundreds of medals and titles from clean athletes around the world who deserved them.
Thatâs the equivalent ofÂ what Russia did. And thatâs why people are booing. For more than a generation, the story of swimming sadly has been intertwined with the story of steroids. Youâve heard of East Germany? China? Many swimmers from other countries who were not cheating lost out on the chance for a medal due to the performance-enhancing drug use of competitors from those nations, among others.
It was the rare voice that spoke up: Shirley Babashoff about the East Germans at the 1976 Montreal Olympics, Janet Evans about long-since disgraced Irish swimmer Michelle Smith at theÂ 1996 Atlanta Games.
Babashoff had the courage to call out an East German team that was later found to have cheated in every race. But the news media of the day was wholly unprepared to identify or acknowledge the coming of the steroids era in sports and instead lamentably labeled Babashoff âSurly Shirley.â
It was a dreadful mistake that brings us to today, to a time inÂ sports history whenÂ a young American breaststroker can follow inÂ Babashoff’s wake, with an entire generation ofÂ swimmers right by her side.
PHOTOS: Swimming at the Rio Olympics