Russia's Yulia Efimova on proposed lifetime drug ban: What about Michael Phelps?

Jeff PassanMLB columnist

Medal count | Olympic schedule | Olympic news

RIO DE JANEIRO – Controversial Russian swimmer Yulia Efimova took aim at Michael Phelps on Thursday night, bristling at American Lilly King’s suggestion that she should have been banned for life after doping and suggesting if that were the standard, Phelps should not be able to swim because of his past marijuana and alcohol use.

During a contentious press conference after she won the silver medal in the 200-meter breaststroke, Efimova answered the question about King’s comments by saying: “What would she say about Michael Phelps?”

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A picture of Phelps smoking a bong circulated in 2009, and he was suspended by USA Swimming for three months. Following a 2014 DUI, Phelps received a six-month suspension. Phelps, who won his 22nd gold medal and 26th Olympic medal Thursday night, never has tested positive for any kind of performance-enhancing drug in or out of competition. A spokesperson for Russian swimming clarified to The Wall Street Journal that Efimova was alluding to Phelps’ use of non-performance-enhancing substances.

“Of course I’m not for doping, and I’ve never used it on purpose,” Efimova said. “But I know there have been very many occasions where people do it because they don’t know or because they’re stupid or naïve. There always should be another chance. When you are driving a car and break a rule, you get only a ticket. You don’t lose your license for life or get put in jail.”

Efimova resented the continuous questions about her suspension for DHEA, which was reduced from two years to 16 months because she was believed to have taken it unknowingly, and her recent positive test for meldonium, the drug popular with Eastern European athletes that earned Maria Sharapova a two-year suspension. Before the Rio Games began, she was one of 271 Russian athletes cleared to compete by the International Olympic Committee.

“This is, once again, the same question,” Efimova said. “I’ve already answered, yes. On one occasion, I made a mistake. All over the world, in every country, you’ll find similar cases, including the United States. What happened next, it was not my fault. I was right. And the week before the beginning here, I won in the courts. I don’t think I have to be subject to any questions in this regard.”

Sighing deeply, the 24-year-old Efimova, who swam collegiately at USC and continues to train in the United States, cast aspersions on the U.S. swim team as well as other critics.

“I said it before, and I think I can say it now: There are only two Americans I respect and I can listen,” Efimova said. “And those are [swimming coaches] Jon Urbanchek and Dave Salo. All the other guys who say [bad things], I don’t care.”

Efimova won her second silver of the Olympics on Thursday night in the 200-meter breaststroke, finishing 1.67 seconds behind gold medalist Rie Kaneto of Japan. When asked about Efimova, Kaneto said that once the Court of Arbitration for Sport cleared her, she should have been permitted to race in the Olympics.

One day after wagging her finger at Efimova and calling her a cheater, King won the 100-meter breaststroke race. The doping questions haven’t abated since.

“Sport has helped me tremendously to stay calm,” Efimova said. “Maybe on the surface I appear calm, but inside, everything is just boiling. I learned to control myself, but when I was a kid, I would just burst in tears. Now I just stay calm. What are you going to do?”

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