RIO DE JANEIRO — After all the bad blood, all the debate over Yulia Efimova being allowed to swim at the Olympics, Lilly King was the one wearing gold.
The American won the 100-meter breaststroke on Monday night, holding off the reigning world champion from Russia in what some will surely call a victory of clean athletes over the dopers.
Efimova arrived in Rio as one of the symbols of the massive Russian doping scandal, an athlete who had already served a 16-month suspension and tested positive again this year for the now-banned substance meldonium.
Efimova was initially banned from the Olympics, but that decision was overturned on appeal. King took umbrage at Efimova’s finger wag during the semifinals and said she intended “to compete clean for the U.S.”
After staring down Efimova in the ready room and giving her a look of disdain on deck, King led all the way to take the gold with a time of 1 minute, 4.93 seconds.
Efimova, who heard a round of boos and a few cheers during the introductions, settled for the silver in 1:05.50. The bronze went to another American, Katie Meili.
“I really don’t know how I even reached the final … it would have really been the end of a fairytale, a horrible dream, if I’d won gold,” Efimova said after the race, her face red from crying. “But that was all I could do right now.”
King didn’t acknowledge Efimova during a raucous victory celebration. Finally, as the two were picking up their credentials at the side of the deck, King gave her rival a quick pat on the shoulder.
“It just proves you can compete clean and still come out on top with all the hard work you put in behind the scenes, behind the meet, at practice and weight sessions,” King said. “There is a way to become the best and do it the right way.”
King’s victory was part of another big night for the Americans, who also extended their domination in the men’s 100 backstroke with Ryan Murphy’s victory and picked up six medals in all.
But it was another stunning disappointment for Missy Franklin, the darling of the London Games. She failed to qualify for the final of the 200 freestyle, extending a mystifying loss of form since turning pro last summer.
Hungary’s Katinka Hosszu became the first two-time gold medalist at the Olympic Aquatics Stadium, adding the women’s 100 backstroke title to her world-record victory in the 400 individual medley.
In another result sure to stir the doping debate, China’s Sun Yang captured gold in the men’s 200 free. Two years ago, he served a three-month suspension for taking a banned stimulant.
Murphy gave the Americans their sixth straight gold medal in his event, rallying on the return lap to win in 51.97. The Americans’ last loss in the 100 back came at the 1992 Barcelona Games.
Australia’s Mitch Larkin set the early pace but couldn’t hold on. China’s Xu Jiayu surged to the silver, while another American, David Plummer, stretched for the bronze — just three-hundredths of a second ahead of a fading Larkin.
It was quite a moment for Plummer, who finally made his first Olympic team at age 30. Now, he’s got his first medal.
Hosszu, known as the Iron Lady for her grueling schedule, took the women’s back in 58.45. Kathleen Baker of the United States settled for the silver, while Canada’s Kylie Masse and China’s Yuanhui Fu tied for the bronze.
Hosszu sat up on the lane rope and made a heart sign in the direction of her coach and husband, Shane Tusup.
Yang rallied from his customarily slow start to pass South Africa’s Chas le Clos and hold off American Conor Dwyer, touching the wall in 1:44.65.
Le Clos, who recently announced that that both of his parents are battling cancer, went out with a totally different strategy. He built a body-length lead over the entire field and tried to hang on. It nearly worked.
Yang surged to the front, but Le Clos managed to grab the silver. The bronze went to Dwyer.
Franklin finished last in her semifinal heat with only the 13th-fastest time among 16 swimmers. She touched in 1:57.56, which was actually slower than her time in the afternoon preliminaries.
As a bubbly, 17-year-old high schooler, Franklin won four golds and a bronze at the London Games. But she’s endured a mystifying loss of form since turning pro last summer, struggling just to qualify for two individual events and a relay at the U.S. trials.
In 2012, Franklin competed in seven Olympic events.
Now, all she’s got left is the 200 backstroke and a likely spot on the 4×200 free relay team.