Controversy Follows Yulia Efimova to World Champs

yulia efimova
Photo Courtesy: R-Sport / MIA Rossiya Segodnya

By David Rieder.

When it comes to the women’s breaststroke events this summer at the World Championships in Budapest, Yulia Efimova will be front and center. She has even earned the status of “favorite” in the 200 breast after she became the first woman to break 2:20 in the event this year at the Barcelona stop of the Mare Nostrum tour.

But wherever Efimova goes, controversy and attention will follow.

That all started in late 2013, just months after Efimova won World titles in both the 50 and 200 breast. She tested positive for 7-keto-DHEA during an out-of-competition drug test.

She claimed that it had all been a mix-up, a message lost in translation. At the time, Efimova did not know English well, having only recently begun training in the United States, and she claimed she misunderstood a salesperson at a GNC store when purchasing a supplement.

That product turned out to contain 7-keto-DHEA, and Efimova was suspended 16 months. The suspension was retroactively issued in May 2014, so Efimova was stripped of four short course world records from the previous fall. But FINA knocked the suspension down from a full two years, believing that Efimova had not intended to cheat.

So Efimova served her time and then returned to the sport in 2015. At the World Championships in Kazan, she won gold in the 100 breast.

But in the midst of her final preparations for the Olympics in Rio, Efimova was suspended again, this time after meldonium was found in her system. That decision was handed down in March, but Efimova claimed innocence. Since meldonium had just been added to the WADA banned list, there would be controversy.

Indeed, Efimova would eventually have her suspension lifted and then receive clearance to compete. But in July, after the McLaren report came out, she was again barred from the Olympics and lost her initial appeal, but she was allowed to swim last-minute, receiving final clearance during the Opening Ceremony—less than 48 hours before her 100 breast prelims race.


Photo Courtesy: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports

Then came Lilly King. After she finished barely ahead of Efimova for the top seed in both the prelims and semi-finals of the 100 breast, the two exchanged finger wags, and the ever-brash King made it known to the world that she thought she didn’t think Efimova belonged at the Olympic Games.

“It is unfortunate that this controversy going on in the sport right now,” King said. “It was the IOC’s decision (to allow Efimova to compete), and I’m going to respect that decision, even if it’s something I don’t agree with.”

One day later, in a hyped-up finals showdown, King won gold, beating Efimova by a half-second. In celebration, King slapped the water in Efimova’s lane but did not offer any congratulations. Later that night, the two sat feet away from each other during an extremely awkward press conference and offered no apologies.

Was Efimova a cheater who did not deserve to be competing in the Olympics? Or was King perpetuating bad sportsmanship and tarnishing Efimova’s legacy?

Efimova later took a silver medal in the 200 breast and went on to admit that it hadn’t been an easy week with her last-minute clearance to compete and the drama with King.

In the months since Rio, Efimova has hardly been heard from outside the pool, but in it, she’s made her intentions clear: She’s gunning for gold this summer at the World Championships in Budapest.

Exactly how the 100 breast will shake out, it’s too early to tell for sure. Wait at least until after U.S. Nationals later this month, where King and Olympic bronze medalist Katie Meili will compete for spots in Budapest.

In the 200, though, it’s hard not to like her chances. Efimova’s time from Barcelona was 2:19.83, two seconds faster than anybody else has swum this year. (British teenager Jocelyn Ulyett ranks second at 2:22.08.)

It’s not like a ton of strong competition is waiting in the wings. Neither 2015 World Champion Kanako Watanabe nor 2016 Olympic gold medalist Rie Kaneto have competed this year, and world record-holder Rikke Moeller Pedersen hasn’t broken 2:20 since 2014.

As for the Americans, Meili has been the best of the bunch this year, currently ranking fifth in the world at 2:23.18, but the women’s 200 breast was the only swimming event, women’s or men’s, where no American made the final in Rio.

The gold medal, then, is Efimova’s to lose.

And the more attention she creates for herself in the pool, the more negative attention she will get outside of it. She was booed heavily in Rio and could be booed again this summer in Budapest. Fans and pundits will undoubtedly label her a “cheater.” Her races against King will be among the most anticipated of the week.

Yulia Efimova has won three World titles and two individual Olympic medals, but—fairly or unfairly—most of the attention she gets has little to do with any of those awards.

All commentaries are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine nor its staff.

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HJ Oxie
6 years ago

The controversy is self inflicted. She failed two drug screenings, that we know of. Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice shame on me.

Nicole Paquette Willingham

Excited to cheer for Lilly King again!

Bill Bell
6 years ago

She’s in same spot “countrywoman” Maria Sharapova is in, i.e., a convicted druggie who’s on comeback trail and is shunned by competitors (barred from French Open) and booed by fans.

Personally I think all the naysyers should get off Efimova’s back and stop ragging on her — especially he guy who runs What’s done has been done and it’s time to move on.

Arguably Lilly King had a legitimate beef last year Rio when the IOC waffled, woffled and eventually let Efimova compete. But that was then, this is now and time to move on.

America has a reputation s a “forgiving nation” so let’s give the Big E the benefit of the doubt and move on.

Like the famous man once said: “Why can’t we all ya’ know like…just get along?”

Brandon Ortiz
6 years ago


Tasha McGill
6 years ago
Nate Sharp
6 years ago
Reply to  Tasha McGill

“Yay, verily I say unto you, I am stealing this meme.” First Hesitations 3:10.

Brett Davies
6 years ago

She should be banned from competing twice caught cheating and claiming she did not do it intentionally. Another Russian Sportswomen – Maria Sharapova also tested positive for Maledonium and was banned from competing in Tennis for 18 months. So it is hard to understand how Efimova was even allowed to compete in Rio.

6 years ago
Reply to  Brett Davies

It is in indeed hard to understand when you only read the headlines! Educate yourself before making such ignorant statements as above!

Valerie Pagett
6 years ago

Lily King has zero class either way.

Vasily Khmelevskih
6 years ago

Haters gonna hate!!! Yulia, go for it!!!!
And stop that hype on WADA tests!!!! We know they’re hypocrites!!!! Like any politician in the world!!!!

Peter Mooney
6 years ago


Dirk G. Winkler
6 years ago

Blue eyed sports diplomats and fans have no clue what is going on at the highest level of the sport, performance enhancing supplements are on everybodies menu!!! The quantity and quality of training at this level is inhuman and is almost impossible to do and to recover from without help!!
Lilly King needs to let her swimming do the talking, Efimova is one of the best breaststrokers ever and does not deserve any of this ignorant and uneducated bla blah …. she puts in the work like all the other top athletes….don’t be a victim of the press, instead go out and try to train 4 hours a day for 10-20 years…. then talk!!!

Karl Holleworth
6 years ago

Lilly King may have the moral high ground but that’s no excuse for acting like a classles hillbilly. In actual fact the rest of the world hates King for the way she acted at the Olympics. Sore winners are scum. When u say you respect the Olympics decision and then act the way King did then you should be stripped of your medal and sent back to Indiana

Matt Seadog
6 years ago

Nonsense, we need more of that. It needed to be said to the world. She did it gracefully.

Jesper Kruse
6 years ago

I completely disagree Karl Holleworth. Athletes need to show they strongly oppose any kind of cheating/ doping. Efimova stripped so many honorable winners of their claim to fame and celebrations by cheating her way to medals. Hardly the same to have the medal posted to you 6 months later compared to being celebrated in front of the crowd. So many swimmers work endless hours in the pool – they need to show their disrespect of Efimova.

Jeff Dunn
Jeff Dunn
6 years ago
Reply to  Jesper Kruse

You guys have no idea what the F you are talking about. Meledonium was a completely LEGAL supplement to take both by FINA and the Olympics until December 2015, when it was banned at the end of the year. It was widely used around the world and had been for years. Once it was banned in December, Efimova STOPPED taking it. The problem is it takes from several weeks to several months for all traces of it to get out of your system. She was tested in February and small traces were found and they immediately banned her per their protocol. On appeal, they realized that it was a mistake, that she DID stop taking the substance when it was banned (due to tiny, trace amount in her system) and did absolutely nothing wrong.

This is a girl who had two world records and three international titles stripped from her for taking pills she bought over the counter at GNC – pills you or I could buy and take today – that had a banned substance in small amounts among its ingredients that she didn’t even know was there. People make it sound like she’s intentionally going around taking anabolic steroids with needles and syringes to gain unfair advantage. The idea she would jeopardize winning an Olympic medal by continuing to take trace amounts of meledonium after it was banned December 31, 2015 is on its face – LUDICROUS.

She, like all elite swimmers, has been randomly tested since the Olympics and is completely clean – while setting world best marks in the 50m and 200m breast (no one within 2 seconds of her this year), and 2nd best in the 100m breast. Again, completely clean. She doesn’t need to cheat. It was an innocent mistake the first time and NO mistake the second – she has certainly been punished for both episodes regardless.

You people would be better served to actually learn the facts before throwing stones and spewing stupidity based upon sensationalized media accounts of half truths and willful omissions to increase audiences. Efimova will continue to dominate world swimming in her event – cleanly – and do so with class unknown to clowns like Lilly King.

Matt Seadog
6 years ago

So ridiculous that she was allowed to swim at the Olympics. Lily still crushed her. When is the USA going to stop taking all the crap from FINA??? USA needs to start boycotting FINA events and create their own international circuit. It was the same situation with the Chinese cheating 1500 swimmer. He was banned in secret, mysteriously “Scrathed” a major event, and never banned from the Olympics, either.

LEAVE FINA!!! Everyone is jealous that’s we are the best, so they try to cheat and are supported by FINA.

If this happened to a US SWIMMER they would not have been allowed to swim.

Patty Lechuga Orvañanos

Once a cheater….

Joe Meyer
6 years ago

No problem with her or King. Just go out and swim fast.

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