Lilly King wins spot at Olympic trials. Hardest meet in the world brings heartbreak for many

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INDIANAPOLIS — It was less than a minute after the race was over, after Lilly King won the 100 breaststroke to make her third Olympic team, that she swam across her lane to reach out to hug the woman who finished third and did not qualify for Paris next month.

That woman happened to be the 2021 Olympic gold medalist in the event.

Lydia Jacoby, a then-teenager from Alaska who was one of the delightful surprises of the Tokyo Olympics, missed qualifying for Paris by .27 of a second Monday night at the U.S. Olympic swimming trials.

King won the 100 breaststroke in 1:05.43, followed by a new upstart, University of Virginia junior Emma Weber, in 1:06.10. Jacoby finished third in 1:06.37.

Such is the fickleness of this sport that only the top two qualify in each event no matter who won the gold medal the last time around.

“My heart just absolutely breaks for her,” King said of Jacoby afterward. “That’s what this meet is. I like to tell people that the key to this meet is don’t get too high and don’t get too low.

“As emotionally invested as I am in Lydia, it’s really really hard to watch and kind of move forward from that, but on the flip side, what a performance from Emma Weber and that’s just kind of how this meet rolls. It will make your career and break your career in a minute. It’s the hardest meet in the world. It’s a lot harder than any Olympics in my opinion. I hope she can move forward from this and I’m rooting for her always.”

Jacoby, now 20 and swimming at the University of Texas, declined a request to be interviewed, a USA Swimming spokesperson said.

Over the past eight years, King, 27, has ridden the waves of her sport, and it hasn’t always been easy. She won gold in the 100 breaststroke in Rio, but then a disappointing bronze in Tokyo in the race won by Jacoby. She added another gold in the 4 x 100 medley relay in Rio, and two silvers in Tokyo in that relay and the 200 breaststroke.

She said that going into the 2016 Olympics, she “pretty much felt invincible.” She felt the same way heading into Tokyo in 2021.

“That was not necessarily the case tonight,” she said. “At semis last night, I was going in very, very confident, and all day I was probably the most calm I’ve ever been before that final. And probably 30 minutes before we dove in, I was freaking out. So you know, it still affects me, the pressure is still there for this meet, but yeah, it’s a crazy meet, obviously.”

It was especially meaningful for King to qualify for her third Olympic team here, in her home state. She grew up in Evansville, Ind., and swam at Indiana University. She said when she walked out onto the pool deck at Lucas Oil Stadium for the first time, surrounded by football stands filled with thousands of swimming fans, she looked around to try to take it all in.

“I was like, oh my god, do other athletes get to feel like this all the time?”

Said King, “It’s just unbelievably special. We love swimming here. This is what we do. We’re a swimming state and we’re really really proud of that and I’m glad I get to represent us.

“You know, we think of, oh, California, Texas, like the big states, they are good at swimming. But we are not just good at basketball here. We are good at swimming too.”

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Olympic swimming trials: Lilly King wins 100 breaststroke

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