By Sharon Robb
Budapest, Hungary, July 25, 2017—In a showdown of the world’s top breaststrokers, American Lilly King broke the world and American records and won the world title Tuesday at the 17th FINA World Aquatic Championships.
In front of a cheering electric crowd at Duna Aquatics Arena, King won the 100-meter breaststroke in 1:04.13 and held off arch rival Yuliya Efimova of Russia their first meeting since the 2016 Rio Olympics.
King broke the world mark set by Lithuania’s Ruta Meilutyte set in 2013 to earn her first world championship medal.
“It is amazing how the world gets faster,” King said. “I was very, very excited at my first world record. I am really excited to see now what happens next.”
The U.S. last won gold in this event in 2011 when Rebecca Soni won.
American teammate Katie Meili was second in 1:05.03 and Efimova faltered to third and settled for the bronze in 1:05.05.
“That race was always going to be a showdown, an exciting dogfight, I was just hoping I was going to come out on top,” King said. “We get a lot of rivalries like this in football, basketball, swimming where we see a lot of really nice people, being really nice.
“That’s great and all but it’s not my personality. I’m spunky, I’m confident and I’m not going to not be myself before a race.”
King, 20, has always voiced her displeasure over Efimova being allowed to compete at the international level despite being caught twice for using banned substances.
“I was really freaking out when I got to the pool, very nervous, and then I got in for warm-up and felt a lot better and really confident going into the race,” King said.
Three other world records, two by one swimmer, were broken on Day 3.
A day after winning the 100-meter breaststroke, Brit Adam Peaty, 22, became the first man to dip below 26 seconds in the 50-meter breaststroke. He won in 25.95, lowering his record mark of 26.10 from the morning prelims by 0.15 seconds. It was Peaty’s fourth world record in the 50 breaststroke.
“I was on such a high from this morning and it was so hard to ignore the fact that I did a world record and try to get myself emotionally ready,” Peaty said.
Canadian Kylie Masse won a world title in the 100-meter backstroke in a world record time of 58.10. American Kathleen Baker took silver and Aussie defending champion Emily Seebohm took bronze finishing just 0.01 seconds behind Baker.
Canada has never won a gold medal in the women’s 100 backstroke at worlds. Masse’s gold is the first medal for Canada since Cheryl Gibson won bronze in 1978.
“I am still in shock but I am super happy,” Masse said. “Excitement in general was the feeling I had. I trusted the whole process. I worked hard this season and it paid off. I hope we have inspired younger generations to get to swim.”
In other races:
Superstar Katie Ledecky made it look easy winning the 1500-meter freestyle by 19 seconds. She led from the start to win her third straight world title in the 1500 in 15:31.82. It was her 12th world championship gold medal, the most of all time for a woman breaking a tie with Missy Franklin. Spain’s Mireia Belmonte Garcia took silver in 15:50.89 and Italian Simona Quadarella won bronze in 15:53.86. The win was the fifth women’s 1500 title at worlds for the U.S.
Ledecky had a tough double coming back to earn the top seed in the 200-meter freestyle in the semifinals. Less than an hour after the 1500, she went 1:54.69 setting her up nicely for Wednesday’s semifinals.
“I just knew I had a big night tonight and I couldn’t be more happy about it,” Ledecky said. “I think compared to two years ago my schedule is different. I was very happy with my 1500, two years ago it was faster, but I felt pretty good. I knew I could do it again.”
Added Belmonte, “Katie Ledecky is on another planet, so the goal of the race was to win the silver medal. For me, it is gold.”
China’s Sun Yang won his first world title in the 200-meter freestyle in 1:44.39. American Townley Haas was second in 1:45.04 for his first individual medal in a major international meet and Russian Alexandr Krasnykh was third in 1:45.23. Sun won the 400 freestyle earlier in the week.
China won its first medal at worlds in the men’s 100-meter backstroke when Xu Jiayu knocked off Bolles alum Ryan Murphy and Matt Grevers to take the gold in 52.44. Grevers took silver in 52.48 and Murphy took bronze in 52.59. It was Grevers third straight medal in the 100 back at worlds. It was Murphy’s first individual medal at worlds.
Japan’s Daiya Seto earned the top seed in the 200-meter butterfly semifinals in 1:54.03.
FLORIDA GOLD COAST
In a rarity at the international level, two Florida Gold Coast swimmers, the Dominican Republic’s Marc Rojas of South Florida Aquatic Club and Aruba’s Jordy Groters of Pine Crest Swimming and Missouri swam side-by-side in the same heat of the 50-meter breaststroke.
Groters finished 42nd in a best time and Aruba national record in 28.40.
Rojas, making his international long course worlds debut, was 52nd in 29.84 in his second and final event of worlds.
Sharon Robb can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org