When a swimmer comes in first at the Olympic Trials, they might hang their medal on a wall or stash it in a dusty box for no one to see. Lilly King gave hers away.
“I saw this cute little girl cheering, and I just gave it to her,” King said. “It felt natural.”
After 11 years of swimming and giving away her loot, King raced at the Olympic Trials in Omaha and earned her place on Team USA. She won the 100 breaststroke and came second in the 200 breaststroke at Trials.
It took King one minute, five seconds and two tenths to lunge her way across 100 meters of water. King’s 100 breaststroke is ranked first in the world, according to Fédération Internationale de Natation (FINA), an international federation that establishes the rules of swimming and other watersports.
In fact, Swimming World Magazine dubbed King “The Breaststroke Queen.”
Lloyd Pool in Evansville, Indiana, King’s hometown, would hardly be considered a hub for state-of-the-art swimming. The pool has fewer blocks than lanes, is too shallow to dive in and is missing a bulkhead, which creates a non-standard size pool, King said.
Ever try practicing for a 25-yard sport in a 28-yard pool? She did.
“Having completely grown up at that pool, it just taught me maybe whatever tragic thing that is happening is not that big of a deal,” King said. “Some swimmers have one thing go wrong, and that ruins their day. But I know everything can go wrong, and I can still have a good day.”
IU’s head coach Ray Loze missed his chance to swim at the Olympics in 1992 but has been chosen as an Olympic coach for Team USA. Loze will be joining King and fellow IU Team USA qualifier Cody Miller in Rio.
“I predicted it all,” Loze said, laughing, about King’s success. “Lilly was a good opportunity for us to start at a higher level…We’re good developers of talent.”
Competition comes natural for King, said Loze. Practices consist of 12 and 14,000 yards (that’s a lot, by the way) — and King races against the men.
Miller, a fellow breaststroker, said King’s presence has been a welcome addition. After being the only breaststroker for years, King has significantly strengthened IU’s breaststroke presence, he said.
“[King] races the guys. She beats down the guys, and she trains so hard. Lilly’s been great. It’s been so great to have her,” Miller said.
King considers herself a normal college student; she wanted a dog but instead got a dorm-approved fish that she named Dog. She loves Christina Aguilera and the Harry Potter series.
“I love Harry Potter,” she said. “Harry Potter is just everything.”
But mostly, she loves swimming. King swims the 100 and 200-meter breaststroke as well as a leg of the 4×100 meter freestyle relay at the Games. King will swim the 100 breast and 4×100 relay on Saturday, Aug. 6, and the 200 breast on Tuesday, Aug. 9.
As far as giving away her medals, King says if she gets a gold in Rio, she’ll be keeping it.
Laura Arwood is a Ball State University student and writer for Ball State at the Games, a group of 50 journalism students traveling from Muncie, Indiana, to Rio for the Olympic Games. Follow them at bsuatthegames.com, @bsuatthegames on Twitter and Instagram, and facebook.com/bsuatthegames on Facebook.