RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — For Russia’s swimmers, the Olympics is all about what might have been.
Their haul of two silver and two bronze medals so far continues a 20-year wait for gold in the pool, even though they have matched their best in that time.
The top Russians are now wondering what they could have achieved if their preparations hadn’t been disrupted by the threat of doping bans.
“Of course you’d like it to be better,” Yulia Efimova said of Russia’s showing after winning the second of her silver medals Thursday.
Efimova came close to missing the Rio de Janeiro Olympics altogether because of a 16-month ban she served after testing positive for a banned steroid in 2013 — which she insists was all a mistake caused by failing to read the label on an over-the-counter supplement.
The International Olympic Committee rule barring Russians with a previous doping ban from Rio was overturned last week, allowing Efimova to race, but she said the doping controversy had wreaked havoc on her preparations, and maybe deprived her of a gold medal.
“I’m not in the form I would be in and could have been in, but I did everything I could,” she said through tears after being booed by many in the crowd and losing out to Lilly King of the United States in Tuesday’s 100-meter breaststroke. “I really can’t remember the last time I slept normally, even just more than four hours.”
Efimova was all smiles Thursday after another silver in the 200m breaststroke, but there was still a sense of opportunity missed.
“Looking back at what happened to me over that time, it’s a big step,” the Russian said. “I can’t say I’m an iron person, it’s really not like that … I’ve got tears welling up all the time, and I’m always trying to control myself, but I’ve understood that I can do a lot.”
If Russia’s two silvers have come with a dose of controversy thanks to Efimova’s past, its bronzes are signs of hope for the future, won by 19-year-old swimmers Evgeny Rylov and Anton Chupkov.
Bronze in the 200m backstroke brought mixed emotions for Rylov, who said he could have won gold but for one poor turn, adding that the Russian team had never quite settled down in Rio.
“I don’t think the results are that good, to be honest,” he said. “I noticed a lot of us found it hard to swim in the evenings, some of us weren’t quite awake.”
Freestyle swimmer Vladimir Morozov, who competed despite having been implicated in a World Anti-Doping Agency report into a massive cover-up of drug-test failures, was expected to make the podium and be a controversial medalist. That issue faded into the background as he failed to finish in top three in any of his events, lastly missing the final of the 50 free of Friday.
Since a four-gold haul in Atlanta in 1996, Russia has gone without another Olympic title in the pool — although Larisa Ilchenko was a champion in the open-water swim in 2008 — and that run now seems set to continue beyond Rio, barring a big surprise in the final two days of competition.