Rio de Janeiro (AFP) – Olympic legend Michael Phelps backed young teammate Lilly King in speaking out against dope cheats after she vanquished drug-tainted Russian Yulia Efimova for Olympic 100m breaststroke gold.
“I think you’re going to see a lot of people speaking up more,” said 19-time Olympic gold medallist Phelps. “I think she’s right, something needs to be done.”
King, a 19-year-old first-time Olympian, had made it clear she didn’t think Efimova belonged in the pool after serving a 16-month ban in the wake of a 2013 positive test and a positive test this year for meldonium.
Plenty agreed as the 24-year-old world champion from Russia was showered with boos as she took to the blocks.
King led at the turn and repelled a late Efimova charge to win in an Olympic record of 1min 04.93sec, with the Russian second in 1:05.50. American Katie Miele was third in 1:05.69.
“I think it just proved that you can compete clean and still come out on top,” King said, adding that she had no regrets about her pre-race comments about Efimova.
“I’m actually glad I made a statement, and I ended up coming out on top in the race,” she said.
While King and Miele celebrated joyously together in the water, Efimova — who is also entered in the 200m breaststroke — hung on her lane rope before departing the pool deck.
– ‘Cold War’ –
She likened the reaction to her on the pool deck — almost unheard of at the Olympics where the “Olympic spirit” usually reigns — to the Cold War.
“For me it’s very hard to swim today, this is like three weeks of crazy,” said Efimova, who broke down in tears facing journalists after the race.
It was in contrast to the celebrations of China’s Sun Yang, another swimmer targeted by his peers for past drugs transgressions.
Sun shook off controversy to win the 200m freestyle gold, cheered on by Chinese teammates and supporters in the stands, one group of them seated behind a section of Aussies whose 400m free gold medallist Mack Horton this week branded Sun a drugs cheat — a reference to his three-month suspension in 2014 for a positive test for a banned stimulant.
Third at the 150-meter mark, Sun stormed past early leader Chad le Clos of South Africa to win in 1:44.65. Le Clos settled for silver in 1:45.20 with American Conor Dwyer third.
“I tried not to get distracted by outside noise,” Sun said. “I just tried to be myself.”
Efimova’s drugs history is murkier than Sun’s. She served a 16-month ban for a steroid before returning to win the 100m world title last year.
Since testing positive for meldonium she has been banned and reinstated twice in a convoluted case that saw her allowed into the Rio Games at the last minute along with six other Russian swimmers who had either tested positive in the past or been named in the damning report on state-sponsored doping in Russia.
“Once I made mistakes and I was banned for 16 months,” Efimova said. “The second time was not my mistake. I don’t know if I need to explain.”
– ‘Iron Lady’ strikes again –
Hungary’s Katinka Hosszu claimed her second gold in as many events with a storming victory in the 100m backstroke. The “Iron Lady” was sixth at the turn with world champion Emily Seebohm leading but stormed home to win in 58.45sec.
American Kathleen Baker was second in 58.75, just one one-hundredth of a second in front of China’s Fu Yuanhui and Canadian Kylie Masse, who shared bronze in 58.76.
Little more than an hour later Hosszu was back in action in the 200m individual medley semi-finals, where she’s seeking to complete the medley double after winning the 400m IM in a world record on Saturday.
Le Clos also pulled double duty, following up his freestyle silver by booking his place in the 200m butterfly final, where he’ll defend the title he won in London ahead of superstar Michael Phelps.
Phelps made a storming start to his semi-final, leading at every turn only to be overtaken by Hungarian Tamas Kenderesi in the final 30 meters. Kenderesi topped the qualifying times in 1:53.96 while Phelps was second-fastest in 1:54.12 followed by Hungarian Laszlo Cseh and le Clos.
Ryan Murphy gave the US a second gold on the night, extending America’s run of dominance in the men’s 100m backstroke, coming from fourth at the turn to win in an Olympic record of 51.97sec and become the sixth straight US Olympic champion.
China’s Xu Jiyau was second in 52.31 and American David Plummer captured bronze in 52.40.