Yesterday, America's #1 Swimming Villain Yuliya Efimova got revenge on Lilly King, She capped the victory by wagging her finger, a move that sent your average American booster in a frothing rage.
Lets set aside, for the moment, discussion of whether such taunting has a place in swimming (I believe it does). Let's also set aside arguments about Efimova's doping. Lilly King is an outstanding swimmer who has, ready or not, crossed over into a new stage of her career.
King's meteoric rise has been marked by the kind of brash, in-your-face confidence we rarely see in swimming. In a way, we can all relate to this kind of confidence. It's how you feel when you haven't realized your own mortality yet. It's a teenager speeding down a hometown road without any fear. Now that teenager has had an accident.
The history of world class swimming is littered with athletes who looked like the next best thing, rising and rising. The rising part is "easy", if you can consider anything at this level easy. It is far harder to confront reality after that first big loss, after you're not the rising star anymore.
The pressure is now on- the only not disappointing result for King is to be better than everyone in the world. You don't have to look far back for an example of someone who rose nearly as fast as King, only to struggle after that first big disappointment.
Breeja Larson came on like a freight train leading into the 2012 Olympics. She looked like the future of breaststroke. Remember when she held off Rebecca Soni (who at that time had the world record in the 200 breaststroke) on the back half of the 100 breaststroke at the 2012 Olympic trials?
Larson would go on to a disappointing finish in London. She finished 6th at the games. Every year between 2012-2016, she regressed from her 1:05.92, despite being in a stage of her career where she should still be improving.
King will have to be very purposeful in the way she mentally prepares going forward. She cannot ignore this loss, she must deal with it emotionally re-frame her confidence. She will have to effectively confront the doubts that weren't there before.
If she does that, she can make Efimova an afterthought and do all the finger wagging she wants.