Gergely Csurka, FINA Media Committee

Hungary's Kristof Milak just made the unthinkable: he smashed Michael Phelps' 200m fly World Record set in the shiny suit era, at the 2009 World Championships in Rome. He shove off not only hunredths but almost a full second (0.78 – 1:50.78), a real stunner from a 19 year-old. Italy had a great day as Gregorio Paltrinieri and Federica Pellegrini delivered two golds in a span of 10 minutes in the 800m free and 200m free respectively. Adam Peaty completed the 50-100m breaststroke double at the third consecutive edition of the World Championships, then he earned another medal in the mixed medley relay, a bronze - here the title went to the Aussies who just edged out the US quartet by 0.02sec.

When Michael Phelps broke World Record in the the 200m butterfly for the first time in his career in 2001, Kristof Milak was a one-year old baby. Back then the young American swam 1:54.92. In 2009, he was already a legend, fresh from making the impossible, winning 8 golds at the Beijing Olympics. Then the greatest of all-time had the chance to swim in a rubber-suit, aiding speed as no other swimwear before and set a new WR of 1:51.51 minutes. No other man managed to get under 1:52 ever since.

Glory around his head - Kristof Milak, a new star has been born - Credits: Istvan Derencsenyi

What’s more, to go sub-1:53 seemed to a mission impossible for many: Chad le Clos had once 1:52.96 when he upset Phelps at the 2012 London final. Laszlo Cseh, who achieved 1:52.71 behind Phelps at the 2008 Games, could go for 1:52.91 at the 2016 Europeans in London. These were the only two occasions between 2009 and 2018 when the clock showed a time beginning with 1:52.

Then surfaced Milak, rocked the Duna Arena as he won a silver in the 100m fly as a 17 year-old in Budapest 2017, then came his first blast in the 200m when he clocked 1:52.71, just 0.01shy of Cseh’s 2008 ER, the second-best effort ever besides Phelps. Since then, he added two more 1:52s, three in two years, while the previous decade saw only two efforts from two greats.

“Kristof will lift butterfly swimming into a new dimension” Le Clos said soon after Milak clocked his third 1:52 while winning the semis here. The South African perhaps thought that it would happen in the near future, maybe at the Olympics in Tokyo.

But it happened on this Wednesday, here in Gwangju.

What this 19 year-old did was really out of this world. In the final, Chad set the pace as he usually did, was deep under the WR space at 50m and 100m – but until now no one turned with him so close at the halfway mark. Then Milak just geared up and left everyone behind. This is something we saw last year at the Europeans. What we have never seen that he left the red line behind too. The WR-marker wasn’t around his hands, or arms or shoulders. It was behind him, somewhere at his lower back. On the tribune thousands roared over the last 30m. As coaches said afterwards, back in the warm-up pool life had stopped, some hundred people watched the screen yelling and screaming and the place was about to blow up.

A dream performance

Then the whole complex blew up when the clock stopped. The time on the board was 1:50.73 – needed to look at it twice before believing it once. Beating Phelps’ 10 year-old supersuit WR by 0.78sec is such a feat which words can’t really describe.

Around this absolute highlight there were some great swims as well. The session was kicked off with an Italian double: Gregorio Paltrinieri swam on his own and cracked the European Record to win the 800m free, followed by Federica Pellegrini’s magnificent triumph in the women’s 200m free. The Italian retained her 2017 title as she managed to pass Ariarne Titmus whom many regarded a favourite after her great win against Katie Ledecky in the 400m. However, the Italian diva came up with something special once more and her space in the homecoming leg was unmatchable for the Aussie.

Back to the top: Paltrinieri regained confidence and gold

Only the clock was Adam Peaty’s opponent in the 50m breast, in recent years his swims offer only a simple question: whether he would set a new WR or not. In the 100m he did, now he was just 0.11sec shy of his mark from 2017. Still, this 26.06 is his third best-ever blast in the dash. Two Brazilians, Felipe Lima and Joao Gomes Junior claimed the minor spoils behind the British Lion. Peaty doubled down the 50m and 100m breast titles for the third time at the Worlds after 2015 and 2017 – and he managed to add a bronze later in the mixed medley relay.

50-100m double in the third straigt edition of the Worlds, first breaststroker with 6 world titles - Adam Peaty is one of the greatests ever seen in this competition

This session-closing event offered tremendous excitements as the two super-powers, Australia and the United States staged an outstanding duel in this new Olympic event (to be debuted in Tokyo). What made it special that they applied different approaches, the Aussies started with two males, the US opted for a male-female-male-female format. While the Americans turned 5th, the Aussies were second at the halfway mark but Caeleb Dressel pushed them to the first place after the fly leg while the Aussies turned third, trailing by 1.25 behind the Americans. With Simone Manuel swimming the last leg for the US, it was at least dubious whether Cate Campbell could bridge such a gap but she did a miracle, clocked an incredible 51.10 split and out-touched Manuel by 0.02sec at the wall to secure a perfect ending for this brilliant day.

Miracle from Down Under

Earlier in the semis, Dressel sent another strong message on his preparedness and speed by clocking 47.35 in the 100m free but the final with Olympic title-holder Aussie Kyle Chalmers promise a real thriller (Chalmers wasn’t in Budapest because of his surgery, so this is going to be there first real showdown between these two rockets).

Quotes

Kristof Milak, HUN, gold, 200m fly, new WR

“I didn’t expect to happen here. I was preparing to do it some day but it wasn’t in the cards that I could do it right now. Though the whole day was simply perfect. I was free of pressure as I didn’t think of swimming for a single moment until I arrived to the pool but still didn’t feel any tension during the warm-up. Then in the last call room a very special nervousness took over but that was so unique that I knew it was going to be something really great. 

As for the race, I was fully aware that Chad (le Clos) would go out pretty fast I just wanted to keep up with him. Though when I saw that he gained a body-length or so at the first turn I was a bit worried and decided to gear up. Retrospectively, now I can say that I can thank this WR to Chad as he set an amazing pace during the first 100m, that really set me up for the second 100m. One I turned at the 100m, I closed out everybody and everything. There was me and the wall – nothing else. I fully focused to get the pace I practiced a lot in training. And it paid off that after changing my club last autumn I had to train alone for most of the time in Budapest. I got used to swim on lane 4 lonely in the Duna Arena. I deliberately chose to swim there, as I was expecting myself to enter the competition with the best time, to clock the best time in the semis and to swim on lane 4 in a big pool on the big occasion. That’s why I didn’t miss the push from the others on my way back.

“I’ve heard the crowd roaring but I couldn’t imagine that they were yelling because of the WR. Thought they were kind of amazed that I was swimming so far in front. I felt that it was a good speed but guessed a kind of 1:51 or low 1:52 swim. But 1:50.73... man, I was shocked. Words can’t describe how it felt to look at the scoreboard. All the pressure and tension just went off my back and all the joy came out.”

Chad le Clos, RSA, silver, 200m fly

“I’m pretty shocked with what a great time it was, it was unbelievable. Looking at the splits are just phenomenal. Nothing changes for me. Just a new guy that I have to hunt next year so nothing changes. Congratulations: I have to take my hat off, I have to take everything off, to say what a phenomenal record it was. He actually shattered it! 1:50.7 is a freestyle time: I think I went 1:49 at nationals 200 free so that’s a very special time.”

Gregorio Paltrinieri, ITA, gold, 800m free

“Last week I was in the open water and it was pretty much fun, I think I’m not at the top yet, so there’s a lot of work to do in the open water but I’m really glad that I did it, and I’m really glad that I qualified for the Olympics, that was my main goal. This race was crazy. 800m has never been my favourite, I still prefer 1500m much more and it’s very hard to race in this distance. But today was really good. I tried to go out pretty fast, I mean not all-in, but pretty fast and tried to stay at the top, so it was good.

“This year was pretty rough for me, I’ve been through an injury with my elbow, I stayed out of the water for about 15 days, but then when I got back into training it was a really long process to get back to where I was before. And then I went to the Sette Colli just three weeks ago and I couldn’t swim. I went 15:11 in the 1500m and that’s really bad. So there were a lot of things to do, I competed in the open water and that was my choice, with a cause, so we went through a really difficult situation but it was good. Now I’m feeling good, so we will see how I succeed in the couple of days in the 1500m.”

Henrik Christiansen, NOR, silver 800, free

“Norway is more a ski or speed-skating nation than a swimming country, yes, but I feel happy in this sport. Before the race I tried not to think about medals. I tried to focus on myself, keep working on my goals. Important was also to improve my best times. It was not the perfect race, yet I lowered my PB with 3 and a half seconds.”

“My coach is Ronnie Anstensen and we’ve been working five years together. We are very happy with the silver medal at my first World Championships.”

Federica Pellegrini, ITA, gold, 200m free

“I tried to take one season a bit easier with the European Championships last year, also because I said yes to an Italian TV show, and just wanted to do something different than swimming. After that I tried to work hard for the 200m free and I perceived that my physical shape was okay so I said OK I would do one more year because I love the distance. So I will go on till the Olympics, that would be my last 200m free.”

Ariarne Titmus, AUS, silver, 200m free

"It's a silver medal at a world championships, which is great, but on training times I probably thought I had a better swim in me. I have pretty high standards obviously. I would have loved the gold but I just wasn't good enough to get there.

"But she (Pellegrini) is a true champion, world record holder and for her to beat me, I'm okay."

Adam Peaty, GBR, gold, 50m breast

“I’ve done the triple-double, which is what I came to do and 56 happened, so there’s not a lot else to say really – I’ve completed everything I wanted to do. I put together a pretty perfect race tonight and I was only just off my world record.

“It’s great to come back with all the medals I can and it’s great to get another medal in the relay, which was unexpected. Each World Champs I go to I get more experience and learn even more about how to deal with the pressure.”

“I didn’t know that (first swimmer ever with six titles in the breaststroke), that’s pretty cool. I think for me because I am in such a performance mindset that my emotion just stays neutral. I think in my reflection process in the next couple of weeks when I go home that’s when it will start to sink in.”

Felipe Lima, BRA, silver, 50m breast

“We started training together this year in Sao Paulo, I came back from the U.S. where I was based for almost 10 years and I started a new season right now since the trials in April and we are preparing for trials for Olympic Games next year. 

I don’t have any secret, I think about season by season and be prepared to achieve my goals, train well and do my things in the correct way. So I don’t think about my age, I don’t think about my opponents’ age as well, I think about the performance to be as better as I can each day during the practice to come to the big competition and have great results.”

Joao Gomes Junior, BRA, bronze, 50m breast

“It’s very important that we train together because we follow the same goals. Felipe is a great opponent and day-by-day he’s very important in achieving my goals. 

“The secret is that after being 30, be more experienced and get more experienced daily to achieve the goals during the competition, and to break paradigms.”