Welcome Back, Kristof Milak: Hungarian Star Reemerges at Mare Nostrum

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

Welcome Back, Kristof Milak: Hungarian Star Reemerges at Mare Nostrum

Less than a year ago, Kristof Milak had hit “rock-bottom.” He withdrew from the World Championships, citing his mental health, and he was out of training for an extended period. Milak promised to return, but his continued absence from competition throughout the fall began to cast doubt on whether he would be the same dominant force in the butterfly events at the Paris Olympics.

Remember, the last time we saw Milak at a global-level international meet, he nearly broke the 1:50-barrier in the 200 fly on his way to a second consecutive world title, and he dominated the 100 fly for his first global title in that event. During the summer of 2022, he also showed his prowess in the freestyle events, winning 100 free silver at the European Championships in addition to his two butterfly golds.

Now, for the first time since then, we are seeing that elite butterfly swimmer posting stellar times in competition while sending messages to rivals lanes away and countries away. His times this weekend at the Mare Nostrum meet in Monaco were the best evidence of that resurgence.

After struggling down the stretch of the 200 fly during the previous meet in Barcelona, Milak blasted a mark of 1:53.94 to win the event Saturday. The time was his fastest since 2022, and it was only five hundredths slower than the Mare Nostrum tour record he set that year, which was just prior to setting his most recent world record. Only five swimmers beat that time in last year’s World Championships final, and Milak is already up to No. 2 in the world in the event.

Just as significantly, Milak won a head-to-head race with Japan’s Tomoru Honda, the bronze medalist at Worlds last year and the winner of this year’s less-attended World Championships. He did not fade over the final two lengths, a great sign for his prospects considering his recent hiatus from training.

MILAK Kristof HUN 200m Butterfly Men Semifinal Swimming FINA 19th World Championships Budapest 2022 Budapest, Duna Arena 20/06/22 Photo Andrea Staccioli / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

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

One day later, Milak excelled in the 100 fly as well, defeating Switzerland’s Noe Ponti, the Olympic bronze medalist in 2021, by a half-second. He swam a mark of 50.75 to chop two tenths off the Mare Nostrum record he first set in 2021 and tied earlier in the week in Barcelona. Remember, 2021 was the year when Milak became the second-fastest man ever in the 100 fly and nearly ran down Caeleb Dressel to win Olympic gold before ending up with silver.

The 100 fly is currently a more competitive event internationally than its longer cousin, with eight men having cracked 51 so far this season. Milak’s time ranks him fourth globally behind Canada’s Josh Liendo, Ponti and Australia’s Matt Temple, although it’s worth noting that Dressel and Milak’s fellow Hungarian Hubert Kos are just behind him.

The butterfly rankings over the next month are likely to shift with Olympic selection meets in the U.S., Australia and France as well as the European Championships. From the U.S., Dressel and Dare Rose, last year’s World Championships bronze medalist in the 100 fly, both figure to blast elite times over two laps while France will feature last year’s world champions in both butterfly distances, Maxime Grousset in the 100 and Leon Marchand in the 200.

The list of swimmers capable of contending for Olympic medals in the 100 fly is extensive, and even though Dressel and Milak are the only active swimmers to ever crack 50, it could take that fast just to reach the podium this time. Milak, though, has put himself very much in the mix with his swift in-season performances over the last week, and he does have experience of performing at his maximum capabilities in such a critical moment as an Olympic final.

But in the 200 fly, it’s unlikely that anyone aside from Marchand can match Milak at even 80% of his best form. Barring any huge surprise developments over the next month, Milak will head to Paris as co-favorite for 200 fly Olympic gold and possibly the sole favorite if Marchand decides to opt out of the 200 fly and concentrate on the 200 breaststroke (a real possibility). A single swim returned the 24-year-old Hungarian to that favored position thanks to his time, his race strategy and his win over Honda.

A few impressive races to kick off June, and Milak is again established as a feared rival in the eye’s of the worlds top male butterflyers.

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1 month ago

Milak is Back!
200m is definitely ON!
100m a good chance.
Hoping he takes the double or at least the longer event.

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