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King ready for return to Olympic stage

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Hoosier legend Lilly King is the favorite in the 100 breaststroke in Tokyo, but she has her sights set on winning more than just one individual event this time

2021 U.S. Olympic Trials - Swimming - Day 5
Lilly King of the United States competes in a semifinal heat for the Women’s 200m breaststroke during Day Five of the 2021 U.S. Olympic Team Swimming Trials at CHI Health Center on June 17, 2021 in Omaha, Nebraska.
Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

There was a time late last spring when the pools were dry, the natatoriums were closed and the places to train were few and far between. So former Indiana star Lilly King settled for the next best option.

A pond.

“I did not like (that),” she said recently.

Eventually, she found a more suitable setting at a reopened pool in Martinsville, Ind. before IU’s athletics campus became available for use later during the summer of 2020. A year later and King’s training, however choppy and improvised, served its purpose. She’s once again a member of Team USA, and after earning two gold medals at the 2016 Olympics in Rio, King is focused on authoring more memorable performances during the coming days in Tokyo.

“I’m ready to go,” King said. “I feel much more experienced at this point. I feel like going into 2016, I was like a deer in headlights and had no idea what was going on. I’m just feeling a lot more at ease and also prepared.”

In other words: watch out, world.

King, who was 19 years old and coming off her freshman year at IU at the time of the Rio Olympiad, endeared herself to the nation when she topped Russian rival Yulia Efimova and won gold in the 100 breaststroke in 2016. Not only did she claim the medal, she set an Olympic-record time of 1:04.93 — and even went viral for a finger wag directed toward Efimova.

King also won gold that summer as a member of the United States’ 4x100 medley relay team, but it was a 12th place finish in the 200 breaststroke that left her unsatisfied and eager to try again in Japan.

“Five years ago, I watched that final from the stands,” King said. “That’s not gonna happen this time. I’m just excited to finally have the race that I know I can have.”

King, as usual, isn’t short on confidence. For good reason. She’s the favorite in the 100 breaststroke, where she and Efimova will battle once again. At the American trials, King won the final with a time of 1:04.79.

We’ll see about the 200, though it does feel like King is, indeed, poised for a better showing in that event. After posting a time of 2:24.59 in the 2016 Rio semifinals, King swam a 2:21.75 at trials.

“I still think she’s got some really good times left in her in both the 100 and 200 at Tokyo,” said IU coach Ray Looze, who is serving as an assistant for Team USA this summer. “I don’t think we’ve seen her best.”

King’s Tokyo individual schedule:

July 25: 100m breaststroke prelims, 6:59 a.m. ET, USA Network | semifinal, 9:50 p.m. ET, NBC

July 26: 100m breaststroke final, 10:17 p.m. ET, NBC

July 28: 200m breaststroke prelims, 6:52 a.m. ET, USA Network | semifinal 10:54 p.m. ET, NBC

July 29: 200m breaststroke final 9:41 p.m. ET,