World Championships: Kristof Milak Thrills Duna Arena With 200 Fly Gold, Lowers World Record to 1:50.34

Kristof Milak -- Photo Courtesy: Andrea Staccioli / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

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World Championships: Kristof Milak Thrills Duna Arena With 200 Fly Gold, Lowers World Record to 1:50.34

For the better part of 16 years, the world could only marvel at the feats of Michael Phelps in the 200 butterfly. Phelps was the first man to break 1:55 in the event, and then he was the first man under 1:54, 1:53 and 1:52. In his final performance in the event, Phelps reclaimed Olympic gold at the 2016 Games in Rio, touching out Japan’s Masato Sakai by just three hundredths. Phelps retired from the sport for good after those Games, and in his stead, a successor as the dominant force in the 200 fly emerged.

That successor was Kristof Milak, and the Hungarian officially claimed the throne at the 2019 World Championships in Gwangju. In that swim, he stunned the world and lowered Phelps’ decade-old world record in the 200 fly, becoming the first man under 1:50. Since then, Milak has not looked back. In 2021, he won his second consecutive European title in the 200 fly, and a few months later, he secured Olympic gold in the event, although he did not seriously threaten his world record after his swimsuit ripped and he was forced to change into a new suit just before the final.

Less than one year later, Milak received an unexpected opportunity to put on a show for his fans in his home nation when FINA announced an “extraordinary” edition of the World Championships would be scheduled for Budapest. Just as Katinka Hosszu earned the adoration of the crowd as she captured two gold medals at the 2017 Worlds in Budapest, Milak instantly became the favorite swimmer of the Duna Arena crowd, and with the 200 fly final scheduled for Tuesday evening, fans packed into the Duna Arena to watch the 22-year-old deliver the signature swim of his career so far.

Milak had swum a time of 1:52.39 in the semifinals to lead the field by more than a second-and-a-half, and there was little doubt of his ability to take gold in the final. The only question was whether Milak could deliver history’s first sub-1:50 performance in the event.

By the 50-meter mark, Milak was already seven tenths ahead and a half-second under his own world-record pace. At the halfway point, the margin was 1.48 seconds ahead of the field and almost a second under world-record pace. Milak continued the torrid pace through the third length, and although he slowed down slightly on the way home, he still came in at 1:50.34, chopping four tenths off his own record of 1:50.73 from 2019.

In the moments after his swim, the crowd roared, and Milak simply sat on the wall for several moments, looking up at the scoreboard and soaking it in.

“Now it hurts a lot. I can’t feel my legs,” Milak said. “I enjoyed it though, especially after the race, the atmosphere and how the fans reacted, except for the part when I climbed out from the pool.”

Milak now owns the five fastest performances in history in the 200 fly, and his new record is more than a second quicker than any swim Phelps ever posted. And even after winning Olympic gold, the significance of achieving that performance at home in Hungary was not lost on Milak.

“I can’t really recall my swim. I think I pushed a bit harder over the first 100 meters. That’s why it was so painful at the end, but I really wanted this world record, more than anything,” Milak said. “I mean, 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. The Olympic gold means a lot, but winning here, with a new world record, in front of 4000 people, that eclipses everything.”

Even though Milak could not reach the magical 1:50-barrier in this race, he hinted after the race that it’s coming — with additional training, some better pacing and a little bit of time.

“1:49, I’m on it. I just need a little bit more time to achieve this, and I really want it,” Milak said. “If you look back and analyze the swim, the first 50 was stronger than ever, and that’s why the next three were weaker than usual. All in all, it wasn’t a good swim. It wasn’t a smart swim. I was driven today by the crowd. For the 1:49, I probably need a little bit more training, and I need to swim smarter, and then I can achieve that.

With the outcome for gold never in doubt, the seven other swimmers in the field battled for a silver medal. Great Britain’s James Guy held that position for most of the race, but he fell apart on the last length as France’s Leon Marchand, already the gold medalist in the 400 IM earlier in the meet, and Japan’s Tomoru Honda, the silver medalist behind Milak at the 2019 World Championships and 2021 Olympics, surged through the field.

Marchand hit the wall in 1:53.37, knocking almost a second off his best time of 1:54.32 from the semifinals (and more than two seconds from his pre-meet best of 1:55.40), and he earned a silver for his second medal of the meet. Honda grabbed bronze in 1:53.61. Marchand became the eighth-fastest all-time in this event, while Honda improved to 11th in history.

Switzerland’s Noe Ponti (1:54.29) and the United States’ Luca Urlando (1:54.92) were the only other swimmers to swim under 1:54 in the final, while the second Hungarian representative, Tamas Kenderesi, placed sixth in 1:55.20.


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