RIO DE JANEIRO — Olympic Aquatics Stadium is the Lilly pad.
Lilly King can wave her finger all she wants. She is No. 1.
The Indiana University swimmer won the gold medal Monday night in the 100-meter breaststroke at the Olympic Games, setting an Olympic record of 1 minutes, 4.93 seconds.
Her Russian rival, Yulia Efimova, who once served a doping ban and was reinstated to the Olympics at the last minute, won silver in 1:05.50. Another American, Katie Meili, took bronze in 1:05.69.
King, 19, of Evansville, became the first native Hoosier woman to win an individual medal in Olympic swimming since Fort Wayne breaststroker Sharon Wichman at Mexico City in 1968. King is the first American to win gold in the 100 breaststroke since 2000.
“It’s incredible. You know, just winning a gold medal, but knowing I did it clean,” she said.
She joins the ranks of Evansville sports greats such as Bob Griese, Don Mattingly and Calbert Cheaney. King endeared herself to Americans with her in-your-face stance against a Russian drug cheat. Within 2 ½ hours after race, her Twitter followers increased by 7,000 to 17,000-plus.
She told Meili in the ready room that in 15 minutes, their lives would change. King was wrong. Her life changed when thrust into a renewal of superpower tension between the United States and Russia.
The match-up recalled Cold War showdowns, including everything from “Rocky IV” and the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” to chessmasters Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky.
King raced as she lives: Putting it out there, no holding back.
She led at 50 meters in 30.22 seconds, or .48 ahead of Efimova, who was then fourth. Efimova is a powerful finisher, but King actually extended her lead to win by .57.
“The pressure is going to be on, but especially for standing up for what I believe is right, I felt that I needed to perform even better tonight than I have in the past,” King said.
King and Meili did not shake hands with Efimova after the race or before the medal ceremony. They did pose together for a photo.
In a tense, 15-minute post-race news conference, Efimova was visibly strained. Asked if she thought it was mean of the Americans not to congratulate her, the Russian said she understood. King said she was “in the moment” and celebrating with Meili.
“Also, if I had been in Yulia’s position, I would not have wanted to be congratulated by someone who wasn’t speaking highly of me,” King said. “So, if she wished to be congratulated, I apologize. She had a fantastic swim, and I always look forward to racing her.”
Efimova defeated King in a Dec. 4 race at the U.S. winter nationals.
After winning a semifinal Sunday, Efimova waved her index finger, apparently in response to King doing so earlier. King watched on a TV monitor and wagged her finger back at the screen. King did not realize NBC had a camera on her in the ready room, but it likely would not have mattered.