Her world records have been stripped and Yulia Efimova has lost roughly a year and a half of competition to suspension. The controversial Russian, however, is still all that may stand between Lilly King and the first individual swimming Olympic gold medal for an IU swimmer in 40 years.
Tonight's showdown in Rio de Janeiro is slated to begin at about 9:54 p.m. ET. It should be one of the highlights tonight of Monday's NBC coverage from the Olympics.
The two swimmers were in separate heats yesterday in the prelims and semifinals but in near lockstep with their times. King swam a 1:05.78 in the afternoon heats and Efimova was 1/100th behind at 1:05.79. In last night's semifinals King went 1:05.70 and Efimova was at 1:05.72. The rest of the field has been over a half second behind thus far.
King was faster at the U.S. Olympic Trials with a 1:05.20 and said last night she expects that it will take at least a 1:04 plus time to take home the gold. Efimova has been faster than King's best time but that dates back to the year she was caught doping.
Efimova's participation in the Olympics was very much a question mark up until the final days of the Rio games. She was suspended for 16 months after testing positive for a banned substance in 2013 and then earlier this year reports surfaced that she tested positive for the substance meldonium. That's the same drug that Russian tennis player Mario Sharapova was recently banned for using. The drug was added to the banned substance list by FINA (International Swimming Federation) in January 2016.
In May, however, FINA lifted the ban after advice from the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).
"WADA is to undertake further scientific research on meldonium and have therefore recommended to FINA that the suspension of the swimmer should be lifted," said the FINA statement.
Besides tonight's 100 meter breaststroke final, the two will likely meet in Thursday night's 200 meter breaststroke final and could again swim against each other in Saturday's 4 x 100 medley relay.
Peegs' race analysis
Expect Lilly King to jump out to a lead of roughly a second in the early going of the race. King's split of 30.69 last night at the 50 meter halfway mark was much faster than Efimova's 31.86. The Russian, however, came storming back and is much more likely to go out faster this evening. Even in yesterday's preliminary heats she was 0.42 faster at the 50 meter mark versus her semifinal swim.
A good benchmark for Efimova will be if she can make the halfway turn at several ticks under 31 seconds. If she does that may bode poorly for King even if the Hoosier holds a lead of more than half a second. For reference King went 30.43 in the opening 50 meters at the U.S. Olympic Trials.
The world record in the race is 1:04.35 and dates back to 2013. The American record of 1:04.45 was set back in 2009. Both saw an opening 50 split of under 30 seconds.
Finger waving blow-up
After Efimova won the first semifinal the Russian was shown waving her index finger in the well known No. 1 symbol. The NBC cameras caught King in the ready room watching the broadcast and responding with her own index finger, this time with the well known wave signifying "no" or "not-so-fast."
"You're shaking your finger No. 1 and you've been caught for drug cheating, I'm just not a fan," King said in her post-race NBC interview.
The combination of those quotes and her ready room finger waving led to a social media explosion last night and into today.
Here's a 10 minute video of a Q&A that the Evansville nation and IU sophomore-to-be held with the press before her trip to Rio: