US breaststroker King fears pandemic enabled dopers

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US breaststroker Lilly King says the competition and travel restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic may have enabled dope cheats heading into the Tokyo Olympics
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US breaststroke star Lilly King, an outspoken critic of swimming's efforts to control doping, says she fears the coronavirus pandemic has enabled cheaters heading into the Tokyo Olympics.

"Definitely concerning, but especially with Covid," King the 100m breaststroke gold medallist at the 2016 Rio Games and world record-holder at 50 and 100m, said as she prepared for the US Olympic swimming trials that started Sunday.

"I would definitely say some of the countries that have not been as trusted are probably taking advantage of the time that they had without testing," said King, who launches her trials campaign on Monday in the 100m breaststroke.

"I know that I have been tested over 20 times in the past year, so I know the Americans are being well taken care of," King said. "But I think, unfortunately, the Americans can control what they can control, but the rest of the world I'm not so sure."

King has long been a critic of doping in the sport and international governing body FINA's doping control efforts.

After winning the 100m breaststroke final in Rio, the then-19-year-old King refused to shake hands with Russian silver medalist Yuliya Efimova, who had served a 16-month ban for taking a banned steroid.

While their rivalry has become less hostile, King says she still objects to racing against those who have served bans -- and would do so even if they are from the United States.

"My stances are clear," she said. "I don't think people should be cheating. I don't know what the repercussions for doping bans should be. I think that's up to the organizations. But I don't want to race people who are cheating, who have served bans."

USA Swimming president and chief executive Tim Hinchey also voiced concerns that a "blackout" on anti-doping measures in some areas during the pandemic, when competition shut down and lockdowns that limited travel and face-to-face contact disrupted out-of-competition testing.

But he expressed optimism that FINA, under the guidance of newly-elected president Husain Al Musallam, was moving in the right direction.

Al Musallam, a former swimmer from Kuwait, was elected this month. He was the only candidate to replace Julio Maglione, who had served as president since 2009.

Al Musallam appointed Brent Nowicki, a US lawyer who was head of the Court of Arbitration for Sport Anti-Doping Division for Rio and Pyeongchang 2018, as executive director.

"I think there's no doubt there's concerns," Hinchey said. "I think you talk to our athletes and talk to our coaches, talk to our staff, there's no doubt there's been a bit of a blackout I think.

"I think what gives me confidence going forward in particular is the recent changes at FINA. I think Husain has made this an important part of his new agenda as the incoming new president for FINA."

Nevertheless, King said she had no doubt that there would be doped swimmers in the pool in Tokyo.

"As always, unfortunately," she said. "Yes."

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