The Real Story Behind Lilly King’s Infamous Finger Wag Is Iconic

Jamie Lerner - Author

Jun. 15 2021, Published 10:11 p.m. ET

Lilly King finger wag
Source: NBC

The 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics were filled with drama from Lochtegate to green water in the pool to a Cold War-esque finger wag duel that went viral. And now that the 2021 Olympics are just around the corner, and it’s looking like Lilly King will qualify for the U.S. Olympic Swim Team, her viral finger wag is back on our minds.

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Lilly King showed some personality back in 2016 when it appeared as if she was mocking a Russian swim rival. However, there’s so much more to the true story of the finger wag. So what exactly was the real story behind Lilly King’s finger wag?

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Lilly King’s finger wag started out with Russian swimmer and three time Olympian Yulia Efimova.

So here’s what happened — Yulia Efimova won the 100-meter breaststroke semifinal, and when she won, she made a finger-wagging gesture. It was sort of a “No. 1” gesture to say, “Look, I won!” And while Yulia may have won, she was also the subject of multiple performance enhancement drug scandals.

Yulia tested positive for a steroid hormone called DHEA in 2013, which was on the Anti-Doping Agency’s list of banned substances. Because of that, she was suspended from competition for 16 months (which, of course, still allowed her to compete in the 2016 Olympics). But that’s not all!

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Yulia Efimova's finger wag
Source: NBC

She was also caught using meldonium in March of 2016, which was later added to the list of banned substances. She was kicked out from competing, but then the International Swimming Federation and Olympic Committee allowed her to compete in the 2016 Olympic Games without explanation.

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Lilly King later made a statement that went viral along with her finger wag.

So, when USA Olympian Lilly King was standing in the Ready Room watching Yulia compete and win, Lilly finger-wagged right back at the television with a look of scorn. Lilly herself has said that she’s not herself in the Ready Room — she’s “beast mode evil Lilly.” She didn’t know she was being filmed when she wagged her finger, but the moment quickly turned heads.

Lilly King discussed the finger wag after she won
Source: NBC
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Is our All-American young Olympian Lilly King hateful? She can’t be! But when she raced and won, Lilly mimicked Yulia’s finger wag to solidify the moment. Immediately, a reporter asked, and Lilly’s quote is what turned the moment from “evil” to iconic.

Lilly explained to the reporter, “You know, you’re shaking your finger No. 1 and you’ve been caught for drug cheating. I’m just not, you know, a fan.”

Lilly has since shared the real story behind the finger wag as well.

Lilly said she was surprised that that quote went viral. “I don’t know why me saying someone was cheating and I don’t like that went viral,” she remembered, “but it did.” All of a sudden, Lilly King was an American hero. She had 35,000 new Instagram followers overnight. Her new rivalry with Yulia became a modern-day Cold War.

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Source: NBC

And the rivalry wasn’t lost on the Olympic Committee. When Lilly King and Yulia Efimova were competing in the same race, the 100-meter breaststroke final, they were placed next to each other in the swimming pool. Before the race, neither made eye contact.

It was incredibly tense. Lilly likes to have an eye on the competition though, so when she got to the final leg, she knew she could win, but she had to speed up. And by a hair, Lilly won. The NBC announcer cheered, “Lilly King! Hello-o-o-o, Russia!”

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Lilly King vs Yulia in the 2016 Olympics
Source: NBC

For Lilly, it wasn’t about the USA vs. Russia, but about clean playing vs. dirty playing. After her win, she said, “We can compete clean and do well at the Games, and that’s how it should be.” Nowadays, Lilly King is still our American hero, and we fully expect to see her on point in the 2021 Olympics.

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