I’ll never understand how Olympic athletes are able to deal with the pressure. They spend four years training and fighting to qualify for the big show, and then all that work can come down to a few minutes. All it takes is one mistake—a slow start, a slight hitch in technique—for all those years of work to die in the space between seconds.
This is why I’m still in disbelief over what Lilly King did last night. She came into the 100-meter breaststroke final under the immense pressure that is inherent to every Olympic event, and then went ahead and willingly raised the stakes for herself. She finger-wagged rival and past doper Yulia Efimova before the race, called her out in an interview, stared her down just before last night’s final began, and then crushed her in the pool.
King didn’t just win a gold medal, she won it ostentatiously. This was like Babe Ruth calling his shot, but if he only got one at-bat per season. This was LeBron giving the “not one, not two, not three...” speech, and then going out to play one game for all seven championships. Lilly King spent four years training for the biggest moment of her career, made the moment even bigger than it ever needed to be, and still came through.
And for all the eye-rolling this site does at the hand-wringing and moral grandstanding that the sports world loves to engage in when it comes to doping, it’s hard for me not to relish King’s defeat of Efimova. Who the hell knows what advantages meldonium—the banned substance Efimova tested positive for—can provide a swimmer, but Russia’s massive state-run doping program and spy-movie coverups have turned the country’s athletes into such wonderful villains. And the Olympics are undeniably more fun with villains.
And, okay, yes, American athletes definitely take PEDs, too, and patriotic sports fandom is a not-so-distant cousin to poisonous nationalism. But I am willing to forget about all of that for one day so that I can say: USA! USA! USA! Lilly King and America are great! Yulia Efimova can take her cheating ass back to garbage Russia! Bring that weak shit back to the pool in four years and watch your ass get swatted again!