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TOKYO — The United States nearly got Lilly King out of Japan without her going in on Russia’s controversial presence in these Olympic Games. But in her final media appearance before departing, King made her feelings clear—without actually mentioning Russia by name.
The topic of doping came up at a press conference Sunday night involving King and fellow United States swimmers Ryan Murphy, Regan Smith and Bobby Finke. This was a reprise of a brushfire from a few days ago involving Murphy, the reigning Olympic champion in both backstroke events who was defeated in both by Russian rivals. Murphy was asked about doping in swimming in general, and he responded that, “It is a huge mental drain on me to go throughout the year knowing that I’m in a race that probably isn’t clean.”
This time King, a renowned anti-doping firebrand who engaged in something of a Cold War with Russian breaststroker Yulia Efimova in 2016, took the lead.
“As long as there’s been athletics, there’s been doping,” King said. “Obviously we’re working on cleaning that up. I’m sure there were a lot of people competing this week from certain countries who probably shouldn’t have been here.”
That prompted a follow-up question about whether the presumption of competing against doped athletes here took away from the swimmers’ Olympic experience. King’s answer, while seated next to Murphy:
“For me at least, I try not to think about that. But also, I wasn’t competing against anyone from a country that should have been banned and got a slap on the wrist and a rebranding of their national flag." (Russia did not have a swimmer in the finals of either individual breaststroke event, which King swam.) "Personally I wasn’t affected, but I know Ryan was. I feel like that has tainted your Games, and for that I’m so sorry. But, yeah, there are a lot of people here who shouldn’t be here.”
Since Russia had its Olympic ban overturned (slap on the wrist) and is here competing without the official name of the country attached, and with an Olympic flag, it’s not too hard to figure out which country King is referring to.
For his part, Murphy reinforced that he was not pointing fingers at any individuals or specific countries with his original comments. He said that his opinion was formed by information from Travis Tygart of the U.S. Anti-Doping Association and Brant Nowicki, a FINA executive who previously worked with the Court of Arbitration in Sport. Murphy said both men have stated that there is a doping issue that international swimming has to address.
King’s revival of the topic gives the Russian Olympic Committee another opportunity to fire off a strident statement. This was the doozy from that organization a few days ago: “How unnerving our victories are for some of our colleagues. Yes, we are here at the Olympics. Whether someone likes it or not. The old barrel organ started the song about Russian doping again. English-language propaganda, oozing with verbal sweat in the Tokyo heat. Through the mouths of athletes offended by defeats. We will not console you. Forgive us those who are weaker. God is their judge. And for us—an assistant.”
Russia won its first Olympic gold swimming medals (two by backstroker Evgeny Rylov) since 2008. Its five total swimming medals were its most since 1996.
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