The sold-out crowd at the Duna Arena was treated to a world record on Tuesday night by their favourite swimmer - Hungary’s Kristof Milak in the 200 butterfly.
Men’s 200 Fly - Kristof Milak Puts on Beautiful Display of Butterfly Domination to Delight of Budapest Crowd
It was the can’t-miss event of the 19th FINA World Championships. The fourth night of swimming finals, featuring the men’s 200 butterfly, sold out faster than any session of swimming, and it was all for the Hungarian crowd to see their superstar - world record holder Kristof Milak.
Milak, who trains in Budapest in the Duna Arena, was met with deafening cheers as he walked out behind the blocks, with the capacity crowd in a frenzy in anticipation of the four-lap race.
And it was apparent on the dive and the breakout that nobody would match Milak’s speed and endurance, and a two-minute long party ensued for the crowd. At 50 meters, Milak turned under world record pace by nearly a half second. At the 100, his 51.89 was faster than anyone had gone before and at the 150, he was over a second under his own world record pace.
A sub-1:50 was once thought an unthinkable barrier for the 200 fly - one that American Michael Phelps had dreamed of but never achieved. On Tuesday night in Budapest, it almost became a reality. But it didn’t matter to the Hungarian crowd, who were ecstatic to see Milak win. It wasn’t a sub-1:50 but it was faster than any man had gone before. Milak’s 1:50.34 erased his 1:50.73 from Gwangju 2019 and gives him seven of the ten fastest times in the history of the event.
“Now it hurts a lot, I don’t feel my legs,” Milak said immediately after the race. “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...
“I can’t really recall my swim, I think I pushed a bit harder over the first 100m, that’s why it was so painful at the end but I really wanted this world record, wanted more than anything. The crowd gave me a tremendous boost... 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.”
Milak, who trains with coach Balázs Nagy, is the third swimmer to set an individual world record at a world aquatics championships in front of a home crowd, after Federica Pellegrini in Roma in 2009 and Sun Yang in Shanghai in 2011.
The idea of a sub-1:50 was not lost on Milak in his press conference.
“After the semi-finals I had not really thought of the time like this, not even 1:49, maybe 1:51,” Milak said. “Now I have this so everyone is coming with this 1:49, 1:49…I’m on it. I just need a little bit more time to achieve this. I really want it and if I make it, then perhaps this world record may not stand for 10 years, but maybe 20.”
Milak believes there is more to give, admitting the swim wasn’t well paced. The crowd drove him to the fast time, something that he wanted. In between the heats and finals sessions today, he asked the Hungarian announcer to push the crowd over the last 60 meters when the pain was going to be settling in.
“If you look back and analyze this 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 so for the 1:49, I need a little bit more training and I need to swim smarter and I can achieve that too,” Milak said.
Elsewhere in the final, France’s Leon Marchand won his second medal of the meet with a silver at 1:53.37, which is a new French record and puts him eighth all-time. It was his first of two swims tonight, as he also swam to the top seed for tomorrow’s 200 IM final.
“To be honest, it felt great,” Marchand said of the 200m butterfly. “I had a great afternoon in general, it was a super final for me and I am happy with the silver. And after that I have even won my semi-final in the 200m medley. I had a quite good recovery and two great times today!“
Japan’s Tomoru Honda added to his Olympic silver last year with a bronze in Budapest at 1:53.61.
“It was a very exciting race, everyone was really fast and strong,” Honda said. “I try to keep up the pace but in the last 50m I felt my arms, I almost had cramps so when I came out it was a huge relief – but I’m happy.”
Men’s 800 Free - The Bobby Finke Sequel Returns a Year Later; Romanchuk Shows Ukrainian Pride in Bronze
In what felt like a deja vu performance from the 800 freestyle final a year ago at the Olympics, American Bobby Finke won his first ever World title with a 25.93 on the final 50, winning with a 7:39.36. The time is a new American record as he moves up to seventh all-time and was reminiscent of his swim from last year, as he turned fourth at the 750 before moving by everybody in stunning fashion.
Finke, who trains with coach Anthony Nesty at the University of Florida, had been hanging around in third and fourth place for the majority of the race, staying in the pack that was led by the Ukraine’s Mykhailo Romanchuk, alongside Germany’s Florian Wellbrock and Italy’s Gregorio Paltrinieri.
“That was a well planned 800m and perfectly executed,” Finke said. “There was only one goal for me, to go with the group and finish in my typical way, make a sprint over the last 50m. It was very painful but it was worth every stroke.”
Romanchuk had taken control of the race at the 350 mark, sitting a body length ahead of the three guys behind him, but with a 200 to go, they started to close the gap. And on the last 50, both Finke and Wellbrock turned on the jets to pass the Ukrainian.
Wellbrock won silver at 7:39.63 for a new German record, while Romanchuk won bronze at 7:40.05 - a national record for him as well. Paltrinieri was fourth at 7:41.19.
“It’s been a really interesting race, we were counting on the four racers who were up front,” Wellbrock said. “Gregorio tried his thing again but we knew that, counted on that. The Ukrainian guy tried to switch gears at 600m but we could catch him as well. It was an amazing event and Bobby managed to come back at the end, as he usually does, but I’m happy with the second place.”
It has been an understandably difficult year for Romanchuk, who moved to Germany to train with his rival Wellbrock and coach Bernd Berkhahn ten days after the February invasion.
“It was hard because mentally you are in the war and sleeping three or four hours because you are always reading the news,” Romanchuk said.
“I hope that this medal means a lot for Ukrainians because of the hard times and I showed people that Ukrainians will fight to the end,” Romanchuk said.
Romanchuk has been in touch with his father every day the last few months, who is fighting in the war.
“In a few days (my parents) will come here because of course I didn’t see them for months and it is really hard and I miss them a lot and I am happy it is possible for them to come. And a big thanks to the FINA President to make it possible for them to come.”
Women’s 200 Free - Yang Junxuan Wins China’s First Gold Medal in Budapest
China’s Yang Junxuan won the nation’s first gold medal in the swimming pool at the World Championships in Budapest with a 1:54.92 in the 200 freestyle, leading the final from the 100 mark all the way to the last stroke.
Yang, who was fifth in the last Worlds final in Gwangju and was fourth in Tokyo last year, made her first global podium at age 20, and finished 1-3 with teammate Tang Muhan, who won bronze with a 1:56.25 from lane eight.
“It is my first time here in Budapest, this pool and this city is amazing,” Yang said. “This is my second World Championships, I’m happy with this gold, the time is better than the one yesterday, so it was a really good swim.”
The silver went to Australia’s Mollie O’Callaghan, who has been dubbed as a rising star in her home nation at age 18. O’Callaghan swam a 1:55.22, slower than her season best of 1:54.94, but enough for her first spot on an international podium.
“This race is more for fun for me, I’m gathering experience but in the end I managed to get a medal which is amazing,” O’Callaghan said. “We set up a new plan for this race with my coach and it really worked out... damn, and this is my first Worlds and it feels nice so far.”
Yang Junxuan won China’s first gold medal in this event at the world aquatics championships.
Tang also won her first individual medal internationally.
“I love this place, I like this swimming pool, it’s the best of the world,” Tang said. “I’m really enjoying swimming here. The swim was OK, the bronze is more than OK.”
Men’s 50 Breast - Nic Fink Gets Better With Age, Wins World Title at 28
Since the inaugural 50 breaststroke final at the Worlds in 2001, the United States had never won gold in the men’s 50 breaststroke at this meet, until Tuesday night in Budapest when 28-year-old Nic Fink set a new American record with a 26.45 to win gold.
Improving on his bronze from the 100 where he led at the 50m mark, Fink moved to fifth all-time with his swim, lowering Michael Andrew’s American record that stood at 26.52 from this year.
“I didn’t see anything over the last five meters, it was a kind of blackout and I took a stroke and finished the race,” Fink said.
“(An American record) was a goal because Michael and I had a good race at Nationals and he got the finger tip touch there,” Fink said. “Coming into this meet, you want to be better than you were at Trials - it doesn’t matter who you are or what you swim so I definitely knew that was in the realm of possibilities for the swim. I was hoping that’d be the case but I was happy to get the win for the US.”
Andrew wound up with his second bronze at 26.72, while 100 champ Nicolo Martinenghi won silver at 26.48.
“I wouldn’t say I’m so pleased,” Andrew said. “Obviously, I’m happy that my team-mate won the gold but my goal is always winning. I don’t give up here, I have two more events so I need to be on top in the following days.”
It wasn’t the best for Martinenghi but it was his second medal of the week.
“After the 100m, I didn't feel the pressure in this final,” Martinenghi said. “I never trained for the 50m, always swim the 100. Every time is fun when I jump in for the 50 metre, I enjoy that. i'll I'm really happy about the second place and the time, but I'm not happy about the start, I had a wrong start, I can't do that next time, because we are professional swimmers, we have to be focused (on) every detail during the race.”
Mixed Medley Relay - United States Crushes Field By Nearly Three Full Seconds
The United States won its third gold medal of the night in the mixed medley relay, toppling the rest of the world by nearly three full seconds as the team of Hunter Armstrong (52.14), Nic Fink (57.86), Torri Huske (56.17) and Claire Curzan (52.62) won gold at 3:38.79. It wasn’t a record, but it gives the U.S. its first gold in the event since 2017.
Even with the absence of Caeleb Dressel, who scratched out of his events today, the USA did not miss a beat, and with three World Championship rookies on the team, they swam away from the rest of the field with Australia in silver (3:41.34) and the Netherlands (3:41.54) in bronze.
“That’s an awesome crew,” Nic Fink said. “Those guys are young and they’re hungry and I was confident I was going to step up and perform but it was way easier knowing that those guys, they don’t even have that much international experience yet, and they’re crushing it. You have to rely on yourself but most importantly you have to rely on your teammates in a relay situation like that and everyone delivered.
“I am happy after this gold medal, we have such an amazing relay, it‘s just really great to be a part of it. Usually you don’t get to race with men, so it was a new experience,” Claire Curzan said.
“I am really happy after the relay, we’ve got a great team,” Jack said. “I tried not to compare myself against anyone, as it is possible to race against a male swimmer. We’ve tried to concentrate just on our own race and in the end we’ve brought a silver home!”
The Dutch won bronze in comeback fashion with the team of Kira Toussaint (59.72), Arno Kamminga (58.28), Nyls Korstanje (50.99), and Marrit Steenbergen (52.55), to out-touch the teams from Great Britain (3:41.65) and Italy (3:41.67).
“This was so much fun!” Kamminga said. “We knew ahead of the final that we had a slight chance for the medals, but the other teams have changed some members, while we didn‘t change anyone. Everyone did better than in the morning and I have to say, it was great to be a part of this!”