By Jim Rusnak//Director of Media Properties | Tuesday, July 23, 2019
GWANGJU, South Korea – Lilly King defended her title and won the only gold medal for the United States Tuesday at the 18th FINA World Championships, taking the women’s 100m breaststroke in 1:04.93.
King hopes her win sparks a little fire for the American team, which has struggled a little bit in the first three days of competition.
“I think Team USA has kind of been off to a rough start, and I really wanted to do that to get the ball rolling again,” King said. “I felt like I needed to do it for them, because we want to finish the meet a lot better than we started. I was just keeping them in mind, mostly.
“They’re my family while I’m here, and they’ll always be my family, so it was really important to get my hand on the wall for them.”
King’s race played out in familiar fashion. Swimming next to her in lane 4 was Yuliya Efimova of Russia, the rivalry with whom is well known and goes back to the Olympic final of this event in 2016. And just as in 2016 – and again at Worlds in 2017 – King managed to get her hand on the wall first.
But it wasn’t easy. King was out ahead of Efimova by about four-tenths of a second at the 50-meter mark. Efimova then made her move down the homestretch, and the two were neck-and-neck heading into the wall. In the last 5 meters, King found a little extra surge to touch the pad first.
Efimova finished second in 1:05.49, followed by Martina Carrarro of Italy in 1:06.36.
“I think probably thinking of all the extra 300 and 400 breaststrokes I’ve done in practice and how bad they hurt (helped me find that extra surge),” King said. “Knowing I have the training behind it and keeping that in the back of my head – just saying, ‘Don’t lose.’ That for some reason helps me a lot. You just gotta dig down and do it. You have to have the will to win, and I definitely have that.”
King’s gold was one of two medals for the U.S. Tuesday. Olivia Smoliga won the other – a bronze in the women’s 100m backstroke in 58.91. The Americans’ total medal count after day 3 is seven – three gold, two silver and two bronze.
In the women’s 100m back, Kylie Masse of Canada defended her World Championship title from 2017, winning gold in 58.60. Minna Atherton of Australia won silver in 58.85. Smoliga’s teammate, world record-holder Kathleen Baker, was tied for first with Taylor Ruck of Canada at the 50-meter mark, but couldn’t hold on down the stretch. She finished tied for sixth with Natsummi Sakai of Japan in 59.56.
“I’ve been working on my back half,” Smoliga said. “That was to be controlled, build into the turn – just push that back half. We work on back-half 50s all the time at practice. That’s what I tried to do.”
It was Smoliga’s first World Championships medal. She finished fourth in this event at Worlds in 2017.
“I’m really excited, really happy,” Smoliga said. “I really wanted to be faster. I have been faster this past year, but it’s so different when you go to meets like these. The crowd is huge. It’s not like a (TYR) Pro Swim Series where the pressure’s chilled out, and you can swim however.
“But I think the crowd actually helped me today. I could hear them cheering the last 20 meters, so I used that to my advantage the best I could.”
American Ryan Murphy was the first off the block and the first to the turn in the finals of the men’s 100m backstroke, but he couldn’t hold on to his world record pace, missing bronze by a hundredth of a second in 52.78. Xu Jiayu of China won gold in 52.43, followed by Evgeny Rylov of Russia in 52.67 and Mitch Larkin of Australia in 52.77. American Matt Grevers was fifth in 52.82.
Ashley Twichell was the lone American competing in the finals of the women’s 1500m free tonight after Katie Ledecky scratched this morning. Twichell finished fourth in 15:54.19, behind Simona Quadarella of Italy (15:40.89), Sarah Kohler of Germany (15:48.83) and Wang Jianjiahe of China (15:54.19).
Last week, Twichell qualified for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo in open water after finishing sixth in the 10k race. A veteran of four World Championships in open water, this meet marked the first time she competed in the pool at Worlds.
No Americans competed in the final of the men’s 200m freestyle. Sun Yang of China was first in 1:44.93. Katsuhiro Matsumoto was second in 1:45.22, and Martin Malyutin of Russia and Duncan Scott of Great Britain tied for third in 1:45.63.
Swimmers competed Tuesday in the semifinals of the men’s 50m breaststroke, the women’s 200m freestyle and men’s 200m butterfly. The top eight swimmers in each event will compete in tomorrow night’s finals.
American swimmers who competed in Tuesday’s semifinals were Michael Andrew, who just missed the American record in the men’s 50m breast by 12-hundredths of a second and finished seventh in 26.88; Allison Schmitt, who finished 14th in the women’s 200m freestyle in 1:58.27; and Zach Harting, who finished second in the men’s 200m butterfly in 1:55.26.