U.S. swimmer Ryan Murphy’s comments about doping puts Russia on the defensive

Ryan Murphy gives a thumbs up to Evgeny Rylov in the pool at the Tokyo Olympics.
U.S. swimmer Ryan Murphy gives a thumbs-up to Evgeny Rylov after the Russian won gold in the men’s 200-meter backstroke Friday.
(David Goldman / Associated Press)

Tension over Russia’s participation in the Summer Games — the country’s athletes are competing under the moniker of the Russian Olympic Committee as a penalty for state-sponsored doping — spilled into the Tokyo Aquatics Centre on Friday.

After Evgeny Rylov of the ROC beat Ryan Murphy in the 200-meter backstroke final by almost a second with an Olympic-record time, the U.S. star was asked if he was concerned about competitors doping.

“When I’m asked a question like that, I’ve got about 15 thoughts. Thirteen of them would get me into a lot of trouble. It is what it is,” said Murphy, who had been the defending Olympic champion in the event before placing second Friday.


After a year marked by tragedy, Annie Lazor won bronze at the Tokyo Olympics in the women’s 200 breaststroke, just behind teammate Lilly King.

July 29, 2021

“It’s a huge mental drain on me throughout the year to know that I’m swimming in a race that’s probably not clean. … The people that know a lot more about the situation made the decision they did. It frustrates me, but I have to swim the field that’s next to me. I don’t have the bandwidth to train for the Olympics at a very high level and try to lobby the people who are making the decisions, that they’re making the wrong decisions.”

Murphy didn’t single out a particular athlete or country in his comments.

In response, Rylov said: “I don’t understand this suggestion. I was concentrating on the result. I am really surprised to hear this.”

The ROC’s Twitter account joined the fray.

“Yes, we are here at the Olympics. Absolutely right. Whether someone likes it or not,” according to a translation of the remarks. “But you have to be able to lose.”

The account said “the song” about Russian doping had started again.

The tweets didn’t let up: “English-language propaganda, oozing verbal sweat in the Tokyo heat. Through the mouths of athletes offended by defeats. We will not console you. Forgive those who are weaker. God is their judge.”

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This isn’t the first back-and-forth between U.S. and Russian swimmers. The Rio de Janeiro Games in 2016 featured pointed comments from Lilly King about competing against Russia’s Yulia Efimova, who had served a 16-month doping suspension, in the 100 breaststroke.

Earlier this week, Rylov won the 100 backstroke — Murphy is the defending Olympic champion and world record holder in the event — and countryman Kliment Kolesnikov finished second, while Murphy dropped to third.

Murphy appeared to back off his comments in an Instagram post later in the day.

“Enjoy competing against you,” he wrote above a picture of him and Rylov preparing to start. “Looking forward to many more great races in the future. Congrats on the win.”