INDIANAPOLIS >> Lilly King toned down the trash talk for one night.
She’s still got three more weeks to come up with some new lines to throw at her Russian rival.
The brash Olympic gold medalist set up a potential world championship rematch with Yulia Efimova by winning the 200-meter breaststroke tonight at the U.S. National Championships. King’s winning time of 2 minutes, 21.83 seconds, was a personal best and the second-fastest race in the world this year — behind, yes, Efimova, who finished in 2:19.83 two weeks ago.
“I love racing, I’m just focused on me right now,” King said with a big grin when asked about facing Efimova again. “I love racing fast people. I love racing.”
During last summer’s Olympics, King turned heads in the usually genteel swimming world by calling Efimova a drug cheat. Efimova had been banned twice previously for doping.
But Indiana University’s star swimmer backed up her bold talk by claiming gold in the 100 breast and forcing Efimova to settle for silver. The anticipated rematch in the 200 breast never materialized because King didn’t qualify for the finals.
The two haven’t squared off in a pool since then, though, King refused to back down from her previous comments while being repeatedly questioned about it over the past 11 months. It’s also clear King isn’t content with just getting one more shot to beat up on Efimova in Budapest, Hungary, next month.
She also wants to avenge her 12th-place Olympic finish in the 200, too.
“It’s embarrassing not being able to represent your country in the final, especially when you’re an American,” she said. “That’s what we come to do.”
Getting back sure hasn’t been easy.
Six times since December, King swam the 200 in the 2:24 range. The breakthrough finally came in a familiar pool, where King swam in high school and college and when she actually saw the time on the scoreboard, a fierce-looking King slapped the water and pumped her fist before hugging second-place finisher Bethany Galat.
King will get another shot to make the team in her signature event, the 100 breast, on Friday.
She wasn’t the only Olympian living up to the hype on the second night of nationals.
Stanford’s Katie Ledecky won for the second time in two nights, this time with a 1:54.84 in the 200 freestyle. Olympic teammate Leah Smith finished second, again, almost two seconds behind her old nemesis.
Winners of each event qualify for the world team. The runner-ups are likely to be chosen but must wait for the selection process to be completed before officially finding out their fate. Ledecky won the 800 free on Tuesday, a win that also means she’s qualified in the 1,500.
Admittedly, Ledecky isn’t even at her best.
She acknowledged Tuesday that she hasn’t tapered for this meet and said today she felt sluggish in the morning warmups. For America’s best women’s swimmer, it didn’t matter.
“I was really happy with that (time), it felt good,” said Ledecky, who won’t race Thursday.
Kathleen Baker, last year’s Olympic silver medalist in the 100 backstroke, beat 15-year-old Regan Smith in the 200 back with a time of 2:06.38.
Three-time gold medalist Ryan Murphy took the men’s 200 back title over Jacob Pebley in a time of 1:54.30.
Kevin Cordes, who won gold on the 400 medley relay team last summer, tantalized fans in the men’s 200 breast by swimming the first 150 meters under world record pace. His winning time, 2:07.41, didn’t even break Josh Prenot’s American record. Nicolas Fink was second and Prenot was third.
Villanova’s Townley Haas even surprised himself by winning the men’s 200 free in 1:45.03, the world’s second-fastest time this year. Indiana’s Blake Pieroni was second in 1:46.30.
“It was a little unexpected for me, but it was awesome to go that fast,” Haas said. “I didn’t exactly do that in Rio. I went fast, but not quite as fast as I wanted to.”
Kelsi Worrell won the women’s 50 butterfly in 25.69 seconds, holding off Hellen Moffitt, and Caeleb Dressel edged out Cullen Jones for the men’s 50 fly title. Dressel won in 23.05, while Jones was second in 23.27.