U.S. Swimmers Mine Three More Medals In Swimming
by Peggy Shinn
Lilly King (L) and Annie Lazor (R) after winning silver and bronze, respectively, in the women’s 200-meter breaststroke finals at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 on July 30, 2021 in Tokyo
TOKYO — Five years ago in Rio, hardly a night went by without a U.S. swimmer winning an Olympic gold medal.
While gold mining has been a bigger challenge for American swimmers at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, the team has cornered the market on the other precious medals: silver and bronze.
At the Tokyo Aquatic Center, Lilly King, Annie Lazor, and Ryan Murphy brought the total number of silver and bronze medals won by USA Swimming at the 2020 Olympic Games to 18 — and counting.
King and Lazor, teammates in Indiana, got the medal-winning morning started in the 200-meter breaststroke. From the start, King took a commanding lead in the race, swimming like she had something to prove.
“You know, I don't come from behind that’s for sure!” she said. “I just wanted to put it out there and see where it goes.”
King, who did not qualify for the 200 breaststroke final at the Rio Games, held the lead until the final lap, when South Africa’s Tatjana Schoenmaker blew by her for the world record (2:18.95) — the first woman to break the 2:19 barrier. The former record of 2:19.11 had stood since 2013.
King touched the wall behind the South African for silver. Her of 2:19.92 was a personal record by almost two seconds and put her on the list of top 10 all-time performers in the 200 breaststroke. King still holds the 100 breaststroke world record.
“I’ve been doing the math in my head for years now, I’ve known I've had that swim in me for so long,” she said. “I knew it was possible. I just had to send it off the cliff that first 100 and pray to get back. Very, very excited to finally break that barrier.”
For King, the silver was a big reward after a tough 100 breaststroke — her strongest event — where she finished third. Teammate Lydia Jacoby won the gold.
“I was really just kind of stuck after the 100, almost in shock,” King said. “At one point I was like, I just want to make to make the semifinal in the 200 breaststroke. Then today, to get a silver medal was kind of the kind of the cherry on top.”
Behind Schoenmaker and King, Lazor — known for her strong finish in the 200 — was coming on fast, battling with Russia’s Evgeniia Chikunova for the last available medal.
“I knew it was going to be a gauntlet to the finish between me and her,” said Lazor, who saw the Russian in her peripheral visiion. “I hit that last 50, and then it was all guts from there, honestly.”
Lazor’s trip to Tokyo has not been easy. The 26-year-old quit swimming after she didn’t make the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team. She finished her college degree, then began her career. But she missed the sport of swimming. So she joined Indiana’s program — home to King—and was soon winning international medals.
Then three months ago, Lazor’s father passed away suddenly. He was one of his daughter’s biggest fans. The 2021 U.S. Olympic Team Trials was her first meet since his death. Lazor relied on the support of family and friends — including King, her training partner — to make it to Tokyo.
“If you told me four years ago when I came back to the sport that I'd be an Olympic medalist, I think everyone, myself included, would have called you pretty crazy including my coach and my teammates,” said Lazor. “So I'm just happy to be here.”
It was only the second time in Olympic history that two American women have made the podium in the 200 breaststroke — and the first time since the 2000 Games. It was also the seventh time at the 2020 Tokyo Games that two U.S. swimmers have shared an Olympic podium — a testament to Team USA’s depth.
Ryan Murphy poses with the silver medal for the men’s 200-meter backstroke final at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 on July 30, 2021 in Tokyo.
Minutes later, in the men’s 200-meter backstroke, Evgeny Rylov from the Russian Olympic Committee ended the U.S. men’s grip on the 200-meter backstroke, beating defending Olympic champion Ryan Murphy, 1:53.27 to 1:54.15. Luke Greenbank from Great Britain rounded out the podium.
The U.S. men had won every Olympic 200 backstroke since the 1996 Games. But Murphy has not won a backstroke world championship since the Rio Games.
“I gave myself a shot,” said Murphy, a product of the University of California-Berkeley’s prodigious backstroke program. “I tried to go out there and win. I paid for it a little bit at the end, but I think I'm happy with that.”
Murphy, 26, called the Tokyo Games bittersweet. He has not won a gold medal yet at these Games, winning bronze in the 100 backstroke and silver in the 200 back, with the medley relay to come.
“Reach for the stars and land on the moon” is how he has described his experience at the Tokyo Games.
“I’ve been training all year to try to win,” he said. “That's what I think led me to have the performances I did. At the end of day I just ran into guys from Russia, who are really good.”
While the U.S. has netted many Olympic medals in the pool this week, there are fewer golds than the U.S. is accustomed to winning in swimming. To date, U.S. swimmers have claimed six gold medals compared to nine silvers and nine bronzes.
For Murphy, the medal count shows how competition is equalizing internationally. In sports where the U.S. once dominated, other teams have become more competitive. He pointed out USA Basketball, which lost a first-round game to France.
“My theory is that as the internet has exploded, you're able to see how everyone trains, what everyone does,” he said. “It's allowed the world (and the U.S.) to continue to improve at a really solid rate.”
“It’s cool to be a part of,” he added.
King is adamant that silver and bronze medals be celebrated as much as golds.
“I might be more happy with this [silver] medal than I've been with any of my previous medals, including my two golds in Rio,” she stated. “That's simply just for the way that I handled myself throughout this week.
“We really should be celebrating these silver and bronzes because these are some of the greatest moments of an athlete's career,” King added. “Why would we not celebrate that?”
Want to follow Team USA athletes during the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020? Visit TeamUSA.org/Tokyo2020 to view the medal table, results and competition schedule.
An award-winning freelance writer based in Vermont, Peggy Shinn has covered six Olympic Games. She has contributed to TeamUSA.org since its inception in 2008.