Home hero Kristof Milak set another mighty world record in the 200m fly on Day 4 at the FINA World Championships in Budapest while retaining his title. Romania’s David Popovici set a brilliant junior WR in the 100m free semis, more in sight for me in the final. Nicolo Martinenghi added a silver in the 50m breast to his gold in the 100m, while Florian Wellbrock and Mykhailo Romanchuk took the minor spoils in the 1500m free.
It was a telling scene. Wasn’t planned, still, it was a magnificent sight as Hungary’s Kristof Milak and Romania’s David Popovici bumped to each other in the media mixed zone and walked next to each, exchanging remarks
“Did you feel you were so fast?” asked Popovici. “Yeah, kind of. Though I did not want to be that fast at the beginning. Now it hurts,” Milak replied.
Two young aces, who will, rather are, defining European swimming. Popovici, aged 17, is busy bettering junior world records, just like Milak did at this age five years ago. The Romanian was fresh from a blast in the 100m free semis, 47.13 (new WJR), leaving a handful of jaws dropped around. Not for the last time for sure – his flawless strokes, seemingly effortless swims promise that soon the WRs thought being untouchable for decades will go. First might be Cesar Cielo’s shiny 46.91 from Rome 2009 – it’s within reach, may fall in the final right away.
Kristof Milak already proved that there were indeed no untouchable marks for the highly talented young guns. Three years ago, his blast at the 2019 World Championships was a real stunner: he not just bettered but smashed Michael Phelps’ shiny WR from 2009. His 1:50.73 was the highlight of the meet – ever since he hasn’t stopped clocking amazing times, now occupies the top 5 in the all-time ranks, leads Phelps 8-4 in the top 12 but he’ll sweep those ranks clean in one or two years.
In this 200m fly final he went after the record – he raced only against himself, left the others behind right over the first 50m, along with the virtual red line, prompting roars from the packed stands. The 4000 fans didn’t stop yelling as Milak was leading by a mile and even though his extremely strong start almost hit back, he finally shaved off further 0.4sec from his 2019 mark to clock 1:50.34.
“Three years have gone since achieving my last personal best so I thought it was time to improve my PB, to say it humbly, but I didn’t think it would come so early after I changed coaches” Milak said. “Today I just felt that I could do it and I also asked the Hungarian announcer to push the crowd over the last 60 meters because I knew I would need that badly. As I’ve heard from the stands, he kept his promise.”
Watching him bursting through the pool, practically flying out of the water and broke into the stratosphere, journalists immediately asked him about the possibility of making a 1:49 WR.
“Honestly, I did not think of clocking 1:50 here, I expected to make 1:51 or so, and now everybody is talking about this 1:49, hey, can you do the 1:49? I am on it, promise, but I need a bit more time and harder trainings. I hope someday I can achieve it, then my world record might stand for not 10 but perhaps 20 years.”
He even offered a brief analysis on how he could achieve the benchmark time, in wake of this swim. “First of all, if you watch back this final, you’ll see that it was a bad swim. It was not a smart swim. I was too overwhelmed with the crowd, it was driving me away in the first 50m, which was by far the fastest I ever swam. Consequently, the following three 50ms were weaker and I also felt the pain. So what I need to do is to train harder, swim smarter, close out the crowd and then I can get that time.”
France’s prodigy Leon Marchand, winner of the 400m IM, managed to clinch the silver medal – another promising result (and he also qualified for the 200m IM final).
In the men’s 800m free, the European greats were entangled to another giant tussle, it seemed that Germany’s Florian Wellbrock may make it by passing Ukraine’s Mykhailo Romanchuk over the last lap, only to see US Olympic champion Bobby Finke copy-pasting his Tokyo finish, good enough again to hit the wall first.
Wellbrock was still happy with the silver. “It’s been a really interesting race, we were counting on the four racers who were up front. 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.”
Romanchuk was also consent with his third place. “I’m so lucky, I didn’t have to be stressed to defend my title so I’m really happy as this time is so good for me. 7:40.0 – enough for just a bronze medal, but it shows how close these guys are each other. And I’m very happy to be part of this amazing battle.”
A silver was landed by Nicolo Martinenghi in the 50m breast, while the Dutch mixed medley finished third.
In the artistic swimming pool Italy claimed another medal, a bronze in the team technical final.
The men’s water polo tournament started with a couple of brilliant clashes featuring European superpowers – host Hungary beat Montenegro 12-8 in front of 6000, while Greece and Croatia played a thrilling 8-8 draw. Serbia beat the US 17-13, Georgia upended Brazil 14-10 while Italy and Spain enjoyed easy cruises against South Africa (22-4) and Canada (19-2) respectively, before their Wednesday showdown. The only minor shock came in the game of Germany and Japan where the Asians took the upper hand 12-11, despite a strong finish of the Germans.
Photo: Simone Castrovillari/LEN