How Lilly King became the queen of the psyche of her opponents

With a finger wag at the 2016 olympics, swimmer Lilly King has gone viral. And by the time the then-19-year-old swimmer left Rio de Janeiro with two gold medals in hand – one for the 100-meter breaststroke and another for the 400-meter medley relay – she was one of the tallest. sports stars.

As King waved her finger at rival Yulia Efimova – the Russian brewer who had previously been penalized for anti-doping rule violations – she didn’t realize the moment had been caught on camera.

But, as she told NBC Sports, it highlighted her “alter ego” in the prep room, which differs significantly from her personality away from the pool, and now she’s accepting to be the ” naughty in the pool “because she says it’s empowering.

“I always like to say I love winning the race before it starts,” King said.

“I like knowing that I control the heat. I love knowing that people are afraid of running me, and knowing that your competitors are feeling all of these different emotions before potentially the biggest race of their life makes you feel pretty good about yourself. So definitely, at least for me, I feel very confident in what I’m doing. So I think it gives me confidence and helps me run faster.

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Now 24 and on her way to her second Olympics, everything King does for herself (and her opponents) is working.

The Evansville native qualified for Tokyo in the 100 and 200-meter breaststroke (she finished 12th in the latter in Rio). She is the reigning world champion in the 100 and 50-meter breaststroke – the 50 is not offered at the Olympics – and won the 100 trials final with a time of 1: 04.79, nearly seven-tenths of her own. 1: 04.13 world record.

King also has five of the world’s seven fastest times this year in the 100, so she is a big favorite to successfully defend her Olympic title. No woman has ever won the 100 breaststroke twice at the Olympics. And no one has beaten King in the 100 breaststroke (long distance) since Efimova did so in December 2015.

King also predicted that American women could win every individual Olympic gold medal.

“What I love about what Lilly said is that she is who she is,” said Greg Meehan, head coach of the US women’s swimming team.

“It’s his personality. It is competitive. He’s someone we want in Team USA. She is excellent in relay. And whatever the context, the reality is that the competitive spirit is what Team USA is all about, and as we enter international competition, that competitive spirit is what drives us.

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Before King competes, to control her heat, she focuses on the psyche of her opponents, especially if she faces her Russian rival Efimova. Whether she is making more noise, watching the other swimmers, asking them weird questions or pacing, the goal is to distract her competitors.

“Typically when I run with Yulia, I watch her a lot and do crazy things in the prep room,” King said. “I think people watching is probably one of my favorite things to do.”

Lilly King (IU cap) and Annie Lazor react after a semi-final of the women's 100m breaststroke during the US Olympic team's swimming competition at CHI Health Center Omaha.

She said her gaze scared the other swimmers a bit and noted that “showmanship comes naturally to her” in the preparation room or behind the blocks.

King also likes to be the last to get up before the start of her races.

“It’s one of my things that I feel like kind of like my trademark at this point,” she said. “I like being in control of the heat and I like to let everyone know that they are waiting for me. So it’s sort of one of my favorites.

However, King said his efforts to relieve his opponents did not impact his own performance. When she gets up on the block to start a race, she says she’s “on autopilot” as her body takes over to produce some of the fastest breaststroke times ever.

“If people are afraid of running at me, they’re not going to swim that fast,” King said. “I would definitely say [embracing a bad-guy mentality is] more male dominated than female, but I’ve never really been the type to go the normal way.

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