2020 Tokyo Olympics: US Swimmer Annie Lazor Opens Up About the Bond With Lilly King That Goes Beyond the Pool

by Suzanne Halliburton
Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Annie Lazor won a bronze medal at the Tokyo Olympics Thursday night. She could thank fellow competitor Lilly King for making sure she got there.

Lazor suffered a tremendous emotional blow a couple of months ago. Her dad, David, died. His death was sudden — he was only 61.

“My dad was the first one to always tell me that I’m so much more than my swimming successes,” Lazor told NBC’s TODAY show. “It’s not because he didn’t care about my swimming; it’s just that was such a minuscule part of who I was to him.”

A broken heart and spirit can drain all your energy as you try and train for a spot on the team for the Tokyo Olympics. But King, Lazor’s friend and training partner, drove five hours to attend the visitation of Annie’s dad. And then King promised Annie’s mother she’d make sure her daughter made the Tokyo Olympics team, if she had to pull her there.

“She was talking to my mom and she promised my mom that she was going to do everything it took to put me on the team,” Lazor said. “And she was going to put me through practice every day. That just showed me what a person she is; that meant the absolute world to me and to my mom.”

Race at Tokyo Olympics Ended in Best Kind of Way

Now, remember that King and Lazor were aiming for the two American spots dedicated to the 200-meter breaststroke. If they made the team, there still were only three spots on the awards podium for the race. Help the other at the risk of your own Tokyo Olympic dreams. It didn’t matter to two close friends.

That’s why the race Thursday night was so meaningful. South Africa’s Tatjana Schoenmaker won the gold medal, seizing the lead about halfway through the race. Her time broke the world record. So she became the only swimmer competing at the Tokyo Olympics to break a world record in an individual event, so far.

What happened in the race for silver and bronze made for such a sweet ending. King was expected to be in the mix for a medal. Lazar was a long shot, although if you make the finals, you always have a chance.

King touched in second. Lazar was right behind her, securing the bronze. The three top women, plus another finalist from South Africa, all gave each a group hug as they marveled at the outcome of the race. They lingered in the pool. Schoenmaker cried.

(Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

Two of the happiest were King and Lazar, who trained together at the University of Indiana for this exact moment.

“We go to practice every day together, we went through trials together, we’re here together,” King said of their Tokyo Olympics experience. “That’s kind of the way we’ve always planned it – no matter how much we fight.”

Lazor said her dad still is very much on her mind.

When the stress and the anxiety becomes too much with this meet, it really just makes me think about what he thinks of me. That obviously he wants to see me accomplish my life dream and my goals, but at the end of the day, that’s such a small part of who I am.”