BUDAPEST — In 2019, Kristof Milak broke Michael Phelps‘ world record at age 19. In 2021, he won Olympic gold. But the highlight of his swimming career thus far happened on Tuesday night at the world championships in his home pool.
The Hungarian broke his own world record — by a significant 39 hundredths of a second — winning the 200m butterfly by a giant 3.03 seconds, or more than two body lengths.
Milak clocked 1:50.34. Phelps, the second-fastest flier in history, had a best time of 1:51.51, which stood as the world record for 10 years. But now Milak owns the five best times in history.
“This is my home, my pool, I train here, I race here, lane four belongs to me, I really wanted to show something big for these fantastic people,” Milak said. “The Olympic gold means a lot, but winning here, with a new world record, in front of 4,000 people – that eclipses everything.”
Milak splashed and pointed at the scoreboard upon his finish, but the effort clearly took its toll. He loved everything about the raucous minutes in the Duna Arena — until he climbed out of the pool.
“I don’t feel my legs,” said Milak, who sat on the deck before taking any steps, absorbing the atmosphere. Moments later, he sat down again while doing an arena interview. Then he lay on his back on the mixed zone carpet after doing a Hungarian TV interview.
“I also asked the Hungarian announcer [before the race] to push the crowd over the last 60 meters,” he said. “As I’ve heard from the stands, he kept his promise.”
Milak was a backstroker until age 14, but even when he devoted to the butterfly, he focused on the 100m because he lacked strength.
At these worlds, Milak’s showdown with Caeleb Dressel in the 100m fly later this week might have been more anticipated than his 200m fly. But Dressel, the Olympic gold medalist and world record holder, is now in doubt for that race after he scratched Tuesday’s 100m free semifinals on unspecified medical grounds.
“With Caeleb or without Caeleb, my goal in the 100m fly is possibly to try to win the gold medal or try to win the silver medal or even maybe set a new world record,” Milak, who was .23 behind Dressel in Tokyo, supplanting Phelps as the second-fastest man in the event’s history, said through a translator. “Of course, it would be much better that while we are in this house Caeleb would swim the 100m fly to have that fight, but we’ll see what he decides.”
Also Tuesday, American Bobby Finke followed his surprise Olympic 800m and 1500m freestyle gold medals with his first world title.
Finke, 22, won the 800m free in an American record 7 minutes, 39.36 seconds, prevailing by 27 hundredths over German Florian Wellbrock. Ukraine’s Mykhailo Romanchuk earned bronze.
Just like Tokyo, he “Finke’d” the field, coming from fourth place at 750 meters to snatch gold. Last summer, he became the first American man to win an Olympic distance freestyle title since 1984. Here, he became the first American man to win a world championships distance freestyle event since 1975.
“There was only one goal for me, to go with the group and finish in my typical way, make a sprint over the last 50,” Finke said. “It was very painful, but it was worth every stroke.”
American Nic Fink won two gold medals — in the 50m breaststroke, which is not an Olympic event, and as part of the mixed 4x100m medley relay with Hunter Armstrong, Torri Huske and Claire Curzan. The U.S. was fifth in the mixed medley relay’s Olympic debut as the lone nation to not use a male breaststroker in Tokyo.
Fink made his first Olympic team last year at the advanced age (for a swimmer) of 27 and at this meet won his first Olympic or world medals. Fink is working toward a master’s degree in computer and electrical engineering and taking his swimming career “six months at a time.”
China’s Yang Junxuan won a women’s 200m free final that lacked all three Tokyo Olympic medalists. Yang, who was fourth in Tokyo, prevailed in 1:54.92, topping Aussie Mollie O’Callaghan by three tenths. China’s Tang Muhan took bronze.
Tokyo gold medalist Ariarne Titmus of Australia is skipping worlds to focus on the Commonwealth Games later this summer. Silver medalist Siobhan Haughey of Hong Kong withdrew before her races at worlds with an ankle injury. Bronze medalist Penny Oleksiak of Canada was disqualified from the semifinals for a false start.
Katie Ledecky, the 2016 Olympic champion, qualified to swim the 200m free at worlds but dropped it to focus on her longer events. Ledecky had Tuesday off in Budapest and returns Wednesday for the 4x200m free relay.
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