Bravo, Lilly King!
Whatever they’ve taught the 19-year-old swimmer at the University of Indiana or as a kid growing up in Evansville, Ind., grown men in all sports need to follow her example.
King did more than wag her finger at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games. When she won the gold medal in the 100-meter breaststroke, she pointed her finger directly at athletes that cheat with drugs.
“It just proves that you can compete clean and still come out on top with all the work you put in,” King told the media.
King stirred the Olympic waters when she called out Russia’s Yulia Efimova, who won the 100 meter breaststroke silver medal despite having been dinged twice in her career for performance enhancing drugs.
Efimova was expelled from the sport 16 months from 2013 to 2015 for using banned supplements. She also tested positive for meldonium before it was banned, allowing her to be cleared to compete in Rio shortly before the Games began.
The King-Efimova sparring became public in the semifinals. When Efimova won her semi, she wagged her index finger with the No. 1 sign. King’s displeasure was caught by NBC’s cameras as she watched a monitor back stage.
Later, King honestly owned up to her reaction when asked on camera by NBC’s Michelle Tafoya. There was no political double-speak.
“You’re shaking your finger ‘No. 1’ and you’ve been caught for drug cheating,” King said. “I’m not a fan.”
Yet in the wake of King’s gold medal victory, some in the media criticized her for making Efimova the villain. Say what! This wasn’t about King stirring up the Cold War rivalry with the athletes from the former Soviet Union. It’s about athletes that cheat everywhere.
The late Baseball Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn of the San Diego Padres must have rolled over in his grave at criticism of King. Gwynn, who died from cancer in 2014 at age 54, went to his grave saying all of baseball was guilty for the steroid era from 1987 until drug testing was passed in 2003.
When Major League Baseball went on strike in August 1994, Gwynn was batting .394. He was among the players that wanted the collective bargaining agreement to include drug testing to settle the strike. I heard Gwynn speak on the issue at a baseball luncheon in 2006. He was by then retired as a player, although he was still in the sport as the head coach at his alma mater, San Diego State.
“If you go back to 1994 when we went on strike, everyone thinks money,” Gwynn said. “That was one issue – money. But you never hear talk about the fight for testing. Being the players’ rep, I can tell you we were talking testing. We were concerned the game was headed down the wrong path and nobody paid attention to us.”
Gwynn added steroids discussions were a dirty little secret in baseball clubhouses in that time period.
“I played in the steroid era and I had 3,000 hits, but I can tell you they were all clean,” Gwynn said. “I feel really good about that. During the course of my career from 1982 to 2010, that conversation came up. If you have chance to improve your numbers and make more money, would you do it? The answer for me was no. I want to look back and say I did the right way.”
Baseball writers, weepy-eyed watching Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa in what turned out to be a steroid-inflated chase of Roger Maris’ home run record of 61 in the 1998 season, were complicit.
The only difference between King’s comments and those of Gwynn and others that played on silently was the college swimmer that won two NCAA titles as a freshman last winter spoke up. The grown men didn’t.
King cleanly backed up her words. If she had lost to Efimova, her comments would have been labeled sour grapes.
Yes, I know Efimova has offered explanations she didn’t know about the banned supplements she bought in an over-the-counter product. Or that she took meldonium, common among Russian athletes, before it was banned.
The “I didn’t know” defense is the same excuse drug cheats have used since the 1980s. The meldonium technicality is like being stopped for speeding across the state line by a cop that can’t write a ticket.
Efimova’s excuses weren’t good enough for King. She boldly went where grown men have been afraid to go. She set the example for athletes everywhere to follow.