Olympics: Kristof Milak Pushes 1:52.22 to Lead 200 Butterfly Semis by 2.75 Seconds

Jul 27, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; Kristof Milak (HUN) in the men's 200m butterfly semifinals during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports
Kristof Milak -- Photo Courtesy: Robert Hanashiro/USA Today Sports

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Olympics: Kristof Milak Pushes 1:52.22 to Lead 200 Butterfly Semis by 2.75 Seconds

Kristof Milak was considered a lock for Olympic gold medal in the men’s 200 butterfly before arriving in Tokyo, and if anything, he has only reinforced that conviction through two rounds of racing. Milak swam a 1:53.58 in prelims, and it would not be surprising if no one else manages to eclipse that time at the entire meet. Milak pushed the pace at the start of this race, swimming two tenths under his world-record pace through 50 meters before gradually dialing back.

Milak ended up touching in 1:52.22, narrowly missing Michael Phelps’ Olympic record of 1:52.03 from the 2008 Beijing Games. His time was quicker than any gold-medal winning time in history except for 2008. The only swimmers to ever go faster are Milak and Phelps, and the performance was the eighth-fastest in history. Milak has been faster on three occasions, when he set the world record at 1:50.73 at the 2019 World Championships and twice earlier this year.

Expect Milak to take a real run at his world record in the final, and if he puts together a perfect performance, he could challenge the unfathomable 1:50 barrier. Meanwhile, the only other swimmer to break 1:55 in the semifinals was Brazil’s Leonardo De Deus, who was second in Milak’s semifinal heat at 1:54.97. Brazil failed to win any medals at its home Olympics in Rio in 2016, but Fernando Scheffer took bronze in the 200 free earlier in the session, and De Deus could also get into that podium mix.

In the first semifinal, South Africa’s Chad le Clos was swimming out of lane eight after barely qualifying for the semifinals in 16th place, and he went out hard and held a two-second lead on the field at the 150. Le Clos, the 2012 Olympic gold medalist in the event, is known for that sort of bold move on the opening halves of races and seeing what happens. Indeed, le Clos faded badly — splitting 31.82 on the way home — but he had enough left to hold on and win the heat by 0.11 over Hungary’s Tamas Kenderesi, the 2016 bronze medalist in the event. Le Clos swam a time of 1:55.06, good enough to qualify third for the final.

“I maybe took it for granted yesterday, came in a bit sloppy, and nearly paid for it,” said Le Clos, who changed up all of his gear and his swimsuit from the prelims race. “I had to make sure I was in the final. We’ll see what happens tomorrow.”

Aside from Milak, both semifinals were extremely slow, with several finishers recording slower times than they did in the previous night’s prelims. Notably, Chinese Taipei’s Wang Kuan-Hung and the USA’s Zach Harting both broke 1:55 in prelims (along with Milak and De Deus), but both were off their times, and neither one managed to qualify for the final.

Italty’s Federico Burdisso took fourth in 1:55.11, and Kenderesi was fifth in 1:55.17. The battle for the last three finals spots was incredibly tight, with five swimmers finishing in a nine-hundredth span. The USA’s Gunnar Bentz got into his first Olympic final by finishing fifth in 1:55.28, 0.01 ahead of Poland’s Krzysztof Chmielewski (1:55.29). Japan’s Tomoru Honda took eighth in 1:55.31, while Harting (1:55.34) and Switzerland’s Noe Ponti (1:55.37) were on the unlucky side and locked out of the final.

Meanwhile, World Championships silver medalist Daiya Seto ended up 11th in 1:55.50. Seto actually ranks third all-time in the event at 1:52.53, but he missed the Olympic final in a second event after he took ninth in the 400 IM, where he was the gold-medal favorite.

Despite the better performance Tuesday, le Clos didn’t see anything in the semifinals that deterred people from viewing anyone other than Milak as the favorite.

“What can you say him? He’s phenomenal,” le Clos said. “He’s still young and he’s got a big future in the sport. I like that he’s there. I like the race. I enjoy the challenge. I’d rather lose to a Milak then win if he got disqualified, for example. I pride myself on racing the best, and nothing changes in that.”

Finalists:

  1. Kristof Milak (Hungary), 1:52.22
  2. Leonardo De Deus (Brazil), 1:54.97
  3. Chad Le Clos (South Africa), 1:55.06
  4. Federico Burdisso (Italy), 1:55.11
  5. Tamas Kenderesi (Hungary), 1:55.17
  6. Gunnar Bentz (USA), 1:55.28
  7. Krzysztof Chmielewski (Poland), 1:55.29
  8. Tomoru Honda (Japan), 1:55.31
  9. Zach Harting (USA), 1:55.35
  10. Noe Ponti (Switzerland), 1:55.37
  11. Daiya Seto (Japan), 1:55.50
  12. Aleksandr Kudashev (ROC), 1:55.51
  13. Wang Kuan-Hung (Chinese Taipei), 1:55.52

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