2020 Tokyo Olympics: U.S. Swimmer Lilly King Calls Out Media for Not Celebrating Silver Medals

by Suzanne Halliburton

Lilly King has won two medals, so far, at the Tokyo Olympics. She earned silver and bronze to go with a pair of career golds from Rio. No doubt, she’s one of the best swimmers in the world.

Yet, the 24-year-old is tired of the way Americans view a runner-up spot at the Olympics as settling for a medal as opposed to winning one.

King has been known to shake her finger at a rival to intimidate them. Or, she’ll loudly slap her arms or thighs on the blocks or in the ready room to break another swimmer’s concentration. She also is tremendously talented at swimming breaststroke, especially in the 100-meter race. Coming into the Tokyo Olympics, King hadn’t lost a final in the 100 breast in more than five years.

She won bronze in the event at the Tokyo Olympics. American teammate Lydia Jacoby, who still is in high school, won gold in an upset. King followed it up with silver in the 200 breaststroke Thursday. And she shared her thoughts about the non-gold medals with the media.

“Excuse my French,” King said, “but the fact that we don’t celebrate silver and bronze is bullshit.”

Do All Medals at Tokyo Olympics Count the Same?

There has been a pushback on using the term “settle” for a medal. Donna Da Verona, a swimming legend who won two gold medals at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, said during an interview Friday with NBC that there is no such thing as “settling” for a silver. Rather, you win that medal, too.

King did have a special performance in taking the silver at this year’s Tokyo Olympics. She didn’t even make the final of the event in Rio and was runner-up to Annie Lazor at the U.S. Olympic Trials last month.

South Africa’s Tatjana Schoenmaker touched first in world record time. It was the first world individual swimming record broken at the Tokyo Olympics. King was second, followed by Lazor. It was an emotional moment for all the medalists. Schoenmaker couldn’t hold back her tears as she saw the time. King swam over and hugged her, then held up her opponent’s arm to celebrate the gold. She also was ecstatic that Lazor won bronze. Lazor, after all, quit the sport in 2016 when she failed to make the Olympic team. The two are close friends and train together at Indiana.

“I might be more happy with this medal than I’ve been with any of my previous medals, including the two golds in Rio,” King told reporters at the Tokyo Olympics Aquatic Center. “We really should be celebrating those silver and bronzes, because those are some of the greatest moments of that athlete’s career. And why would we not celebrate that?”

(Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

Swimming superstar Katie Ledecky shared similar sentiment about her silver medals earlier this week. She’d never earned a silver medal before. Her other six medals are gold.

“There’s so many Olympians that have won silver or bronze that are really happy with that and are deserving of a lot of praise,” Ledecky told reporters earlier this week. “Just because I won golds all the time leading into (the Tokyo Olympics) doesn’t mean that the silver doesn’t mean something to me.”

Through Friday in Tokyo, American athletes totaled more medals than any other country. They own 41, but only 14 of them are gold. There are 16 silver and 11 bronze. Athletes consider them all wins.