Swimming World’s Newcomers of the Year: Li Bingjie and Kristof Milak

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Photos Courtesy: Peter H. Bick & SIPA USA

By David Rieder.

The two leading candidates for Swimming World’s Newcomer of the Year honor were impossible to split. Neither had ever been to a major international meet before 2017, and now both have World Championship medals on their résumé. So we asked ourselves: why not honor both?

For 2017, China’s Li Bingjie and Hungary’s Kristof Milak are the co-winners of the award.

To start off with, Li became one of the world’s foremost female distance swimmers—and she’s just 15 years old. She won a silver medal in the 800 free at the World Championships and a bronze in the 400 free, and it was the execution of her 800 that drew the most attention.

Katie Ledecky has not been beat in an 800 free since winning gold at the 2012 Olympics in London. Only once in her career had a swimmer come within three seconds of Ledecky in an 800 free final, when she faced off against Lotte Friis at the 2013 World Championships. Yes, four years earlier.

But at this year’s Worlds in Budapest, Li stood her ground, and Ledecky could never break away. She won gold, but the margin of victory was only by 2.78 seconds, and Li’s time of 8:15.46 made her the third-fastest performer in history, behind only Ledecky and 2008 Olympic gold medalist Rebecca Adlington. Li also ranks eighth all-time in the 400 free and 12th in the 1500 free.

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Kristof Milak — Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

As for the 17-year-old Milak, he could have been overshadowed in his lone event at the World Championships, finishing more than seven tenths behind the winner of the men’s 100 fly. But that man who won that race was Caeleb Dressel, and he turned in the second-fastest time in history.

Milak won the silver medal that night, finishing in 50.62 for a new world junior record. Among the competition he beat: his legendary countryman Laszlo Cseh, British standout James Guy and Olympic gold medalist Joseph Schooling. The time made Milak the eight-fastest performer in history and the sixth-fastest ever in a textile suit.

Milak has some excellent skills in the 200 fly as well, and he set a world junior record in that event in June with a time of 1:53.79, good for ninth on the all-time list. Due to the presence of Cseh and Olympic bronze medalist Tamas Kenderesi, Milak couldn’t swim the 200 fly at the World Championships, but his best effort from the year would have been good enough for bronze in Budapest.

One month after that meet, Milak cleaned up at the World Junior Championships in Indianapolis, winning gold in both the 100 and 200 fly and leading Hungary to a pair of gold medals in the 400 and 800 free relays.

Both were impressive breakthroughs, so why just pick one to honor as Newcomer of the Year? Li and Milak have each made their marks internationally, and there’s reason to expect more big things from both over the next several years.

1 comment

  1. avatar
    Kim

    Well deserved picks 🙂