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TOKYO — Lilly King didn’t say the word “Russia.”
But speaking here at the Olympics on Sunday, she referenced “a country who should've been banned and instead got a slap on the wrist and a rebranding of their national flag.”
She referenced a country whose presence at the Olympics “affected” and “tainted” the experience for fellow American swimmer Ryan Murphy, who finished second and third in his two individual races to Russian foes.
She referenced a country that sounded an awful lot like the one that for years ran a state-sponsored doping scheme.
And she said: “Yeah, there are a lot of people here that should not be here.”
She was speaking at a Sunday news conference also featuring Murphy, who on Friday, after losing for a second time this week to Russian Evgeny Rylov, said that his race was “probably not clean.”
Murphy, likewise, never mentioned Russia or Rylov, and on Sunday said that his comments “were definitely taken a little bit differently” than intended. He said that he, his family members and girlfriend received messages in the aftermath that “are not OK.”
But he’d said that “I do believe there is doping in swimming,” and although he never accused anybody of anything, the context, to many, was clear. Russia ran for years what the World Anti-Doping Agency describes as “a centralized doping and anti-detection scheme.”
After WADA exposed it, Russia deleted and altered evidence that has made identifying individual athletes who benefitted from the scheme very difficult. There are at least 145 Russian athletes suspected of doping who, due to the cover-up, cannot currently be proven guilty or innocent.
So it is not possible to make specific allegations grounded in evidence. Murphy said Sunday that it was “disappointing” that his comments had been “taken that way.” At the news conference, hours after winning a relay gold medal and helping break a world record, he refrained from saying anything else controversial.
But he reiterated: “I do think there's doping in swimming.”
And as he said those words, King, sitting next to him, nodded.
Asked if she had anything to add, King said that “as long as there's been athletics, there's been doping.”
Then she added: “There were, I'm sure, a lot of people from certain countries competing this week that probably shouldn't have been here.”
When asked if that tainted her Olympic experience, King said: “I wasn't racing anyone from a country who should've been banned and instead got a slap on the wrist and a rebranding of their national flag.” (More than 300 Russian athletes are competing at the Tokyo Olympics under the Russian Olympic Committee’s flag rather than under Russia’s national flag.)
“So, I personally wasn't as affected,” King continued.
The only swimmers who finished ahead of her were a South African and an American.
“But Ryan was,” King said, and she turned to him. “And if you want to comment on that or not, I don't care. But, I know, I feel like that has tainted your experience, and for that, I'm so sorry.”
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