Tokyo Storylines, European Men: Kristof Milak Now an Established Star

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Kristof Milak -- Photo Courtesy: Hungarian Swimming Federation

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European Men’s Olympic Preview: Kristof Milak Heads to Tokyo as Established Star

The first time the name Kristof Milak captured the world’s attention was in July 2017, when he won the European Junior Championships in the 200 butterfly in 1:53.73. But a few weeks later, Milak would not represent Hungary in the event at a home World Championships as Olympic bronze medalist Tamas Kenderesi and Hungarian swimming legend Laszlo Cseh took those honors. The 17-year-old Milak would settle for merely claiming the silver medal behind Caeleb Dressel in the 100 fly during Dressel’s global breakout meet.

Kristof Milak

Kristof Milak at the 2021 European Championships — Photo Courtesy: Deepbluemedia/Insidefoto

At the ensuing World Championships, there would be no doubt about who was the premier 200 butterflyer in Hungary. Or the world. In the event’s final, Milak trailed Chad le Clos through the first 100 meters as he swam even with world-record pace before unleashing the quickest second half ever seen (57.85), and fans watching in Gwangju and on television around the world were in shock as he clobbered Michael Phelps’ decade-old world record with his 1:50.73.

Atilla Selmeci, Milak’s coach, knew immediately that the swim would transform Milak’s life. “Of course, this is something to celebrate,” he said after the world record. “But it changes everything. At home, now, he will be in the spotlight. People will want to know more about him and make demands on his time.”

Now, Milak will head to his first Olympic Games as one of the preordained stars.

In Tokyo, Adam Peaty will continue his pursuit of swims that previously seemed unfathomable, and he told Swimming World that a 56.1 is within his capabilities. The other swimmer who could astound the world with the numbers on the scoreboard is Milak, now 21. Twice faster than Phelps ever swam already in 2021? That means that a 1:49-type performance is possible. Consider how absurdly fast that is: only five other men have ever cracked 1:53 on any occasion, and only Phelps is under 1:52. But that swim by Milak two years ago in Gwangju means we cannot discount the possibility.

And even though Dressel looks nearly invincible in the 100 fly (and several other events), give Milak a shred of a chance to upset the American. Milak swam a 50.18 at the European Championships in May, and that time ranks him fourth all-time and second-fastest ever in a textile suit. This year, Dressel has only been four tenths quicker than Milak at 49.76.


Continent of Distance Dominance

Florian Wellbrock (R) of Germany celebrates after winning in the men's 1500m Freestyle Final while third placed Gregorio Paltrinieri of Italy looks on during the Swimming events at the Gwangju 2019 FINA World Championships, Gwangju, South Korea, 28 July 2019.

Florian Wellbrock after capturing the 2019 world title in the 1500 free — Photo Courtesy: Patrick B. Kraemer

At the 2018 European Championships, Germany’s Florian Wellbrock won gold in the men’s 1500 freestyle, and Ukraine’s Mykhailo Romanchuk took silver as both men upset Olympic and world champion Gregorio Paltrinieri of Italy. That trio repeated their order of finish at the 2019 World Championships. In 2020, Paltrinieri swam a 14:33.10 in the 1500 for the second-fastest time ever, and the fastest three swimmers in the world this year are Wellbrock, Romanchuk and Paltrinieri. All three rank in the top-five all-time in the event, and no other swimmer scheduled to race in Tokyo has ever been under 14:40.

Also at the 2019 World Championships, Paltrinieri won gold in the 800 free ahead of Norway’s Henrik Christiansen and France’s David Aubry. Romanchuk, Wellbrock and Italy’s Gabriele Detti should all be factors here, but the European distance stranglehold could be broken with Australia’s Jack McLoughlin ranking second in the world in 2021 at 7:42.51. But expect European swimmers to win at least five of the six medals between the 800 and 1500-meter events.

And a few days after they are finished with the 800 and 1500, Wellbrock and Paltrinieri will also race in the 10k open water swim. Wellbrock was the 2019 world champion in the 10k while Paltrinieri was sixth in that race. Aubry will not be swimming the 1500 free, but he is expected to swim the 400, 800 and 10k, in which he finished tenth at the 2019 World Championships. We’ll see if their demanding pool racing schedules detract from their abilities to bounce back and have success in open water.


Gold Medal Chances for Russian Olympic Committee

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Evgeny Rylov — Photo Courtesy: Mine Kasapoglu / ISL

The Russian men figure to have a really strong squad in Tokyo: Anton Chupkov is the world record-holder and world champion in the 200 breaststroke, Evgeny Rylov the world champion in the 200 backstroke and also a favorite in the 100-meter distance, Kliment Kolesnikov a definite medal contender in the 100 free and 100 back, other individual medal contenders in Martin Malyutin and Andrei Minakov and three relays with great chances to win a medal, maybe even a gold medal. But this group will not be competing as “Russia” in Tokyo. Instead, it will be the “Russian Olympic Committee.” This ban on Russia’s flag is part of the country’s penalty for its state-sponsored doping program, although the half-hearted nature of the ban has received plenty of criticism.

So how might the official-but-not-practical nature of the Russia “ban” impact their swimmers and their performances in the pool? Probably not much, but maybe there is an intangible impact. It’s definitely worth watching since on paper, this group sets up as favorites to win more men’s medals than any country besides the United States.


More to Watch

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David Popovici after setting a world junior record in the 100 free at the European Junior Championships — Photo Courtesy: Andrea Masini / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

*How well did David Popovici swim at the European Junior Championships? He has gone from on no one’s radar for an individual medal to the top-ranked swimmer in the world in the 100 free (47.30) and sixth-ranked man in the 200 free (1:45.26). The 16-year-old Romanian could definitely win a medal or two, and maybe he continues to stun all of us with his improvement curve. Interestingly, his times from the European Junior Championships occurred after the Olympic qualification period closed, so he will be seeded with his previous best times (48.08 in the 100 free and 1:48.38 in the 200 free).

*Duncan Scott is maybe the most underrated swimmer in the world heading into the Tokyo Olympics. He is the top-ranked swimmer in the world in the 200 free (1:44.47), a legitimate medal contender in the 200 IM (1:55.90) and a critical leg on two medal-favorite relays. Of course, he was 19 at his first Olympics in Rio when he unexpectedly qualified for the 100 free final and helped Britain win silver in the 800 free and 400 medley relays.

*Arno Kamminga finished 16th in the 100 breaststroke semifinals at the 2019 World Championships, and he was later 10th in the 200 breast. But the 25-year-old from the Netherlands has deservedly earned some attention this year for his 57.90 100 breast—faster than anyone has ever gone except Peaty—and he also swam a 2:06.85 in the 200 breast late last year. Two medals from Kamminga in Tokyo would not be remotely surprising.

*Alessandro Miressi was the silver medalist in the 100 free at the European Championships this year in 47.45, ranking 22-year-old Italian fourth in the world. Normally, that would put Miressi right into the Olympic medal conversation, but the 100 free looks crazy deep with Popovici, Kolesnikov and Dressel also under 47.5 this year and 2016 Olympic champion Kyle Chalmers looming. It only took 47.82 to win bronze at the 2019 World Championships, but a time in that range might leave a swimmer at risk of missing the final.

*The individual medley is probably the only men’s discipline where Europe lacks major stars, but Spain’s Hugo Gonzalez has finally put the pieces together in long course to become a medal contender in the 200 IM. He has a best time of 1:56.31 this year, while European champion and 2019 World Championships silver medalist Jeremy Desplanches of Switzerland should also figure in here. And in the 400 IM, Europe’s best hopes for medals behind favorites Daiya Seto and Chase Kalisz is 19-year-old Leon Marchand of France, who has been as quick as 4:09.65 already this year. Ilya Borodin of Russia, who broke the world junior record earlier this year, was recently ruled out of the Olympics after a positive COVID-19 test.

CSEH Laszlo HUN 200 Medley Men Semifinal Swimming Budapest - Hungary 19/5/2021 Duna Arena XXXV LEN European Aquatic Championships Photo Andrea Staccioli / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

Laszlo Cseh competing at the 2021 European Championships – Photo Courtesy: Andrea Staccioli / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

*Finally, don’t forget about Laszlo Cseh, the 35-year-old from Hungary competing in his fifth Olympics and the first since the passage of his father, a two-time Olympian who shared his name with his son. Cseh has won six Olympic medals during his decorated career, four silvers and two bronzes. He has won at least one medal at each of his previous Games, including three silvers behind Michael Phelps in 2008, and Cseh also has medals in four different events over the course of his career (three in the 200 IM and one each in the 400 IM, 200 fly and 100 free). In Tokyo, Cseh will only compete in the 200 IM, where he is entered at 1:57.79. He is probably a longshot to make the final, but definitely appreciate a great career in its swansong.

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