Milak claims four golds, focuses on freestyle

Not surprisingly, Kristof Milak emerged as the most decorated swimmer of the Hungarian Nationals last week. The Olympic champion clinched four gold medals and two silvers, all in individual events as he swam the 50-100-200m both in fly and freestyle.

Looking for new challenges, Kristof Milak shifted his focus to the free events, especially the 100m and 200m free. He never mentioned David Popovici’s name during the four-day meet in Kaposvar, but those close two him know that he is definitely ready for new adventures.

This not a brand new approach from the Olympic champion butterfly specialist as he already made a try at the European Championships in Rome last year. Milak came runner-up behind Popovici in the 100m free and only missed the cut in the 200m as the semis were held just minutes after the 100m fly final.

Still, Milak made it clear that he devoted a lot more attention to the freestyle recently. “Since this year finally offers a normal calendar with one big event in the summer, it’s easier to plan ahead and build up our preparations on one hand” Milak said. “On the other hand, it’s also easier to take some risk and change more things in the practices in order to develop myself to a good freestyle swimmer. This is what we’ve done in the camps, and at the nationals I’ve only taken care of my feelings and sensations the swims gave to me. Honestly, I don’t even know how many medals I got. Never counted. It was all about listening to my senses – those will help me when we sit down to put together my World Championships programme.”

Before the butterfly boys start to ease up and think of bigger things, Milak was quick to reinforce that the fly events should remain his priorities. “Whatever focus I’m putting on the free, the fly and especially the 200m will always be my top event where I will try to do my best again and again. I’ll never let it go.”

As for the competition – which was the 125th edition of the Hungarian Championships, started in 1896 (only during the years of World War I was the event cancelled) –, Milak claimed a gold each day while his two defeats came in the dash events, both times the 50m specialist, short-course European champion Szebasztian Szabo’s speed was too much for him to cope with.

After Hubert Kos, studying and racing in the US and preparing under the legendary coach Bob Bowman in Arizona, set a new world best time in the 200m back just days before the nationals started, European silver medallist Benedek Kovacs blasted the second best time over the longest distance and also added the other two back titles. 

In the home of individual medley swimming, it was worth noting that 2019 junior world champion Gabor Zombori’s adventure to the IM events ended in the 200-400m double – last time this feat was achieved dates back to 2011 when the legendary Laszlo Cseh took both golds at the Nationals.

Open water swimming greats Kristof Rasovszky and David Betlehem clocked Olympic standards in the 1500m free – Betlehem did that also in the 800m – which may guarantee them spots in the 10km marathon under the new rules. Rasovszky was also working on his speed in the shorter events and came up with the second best individual effort in the 4x200m relay final. Not accidentally, as he’s also found a new target: to become at least a heat reserve and thus be part of European champion Hungarian 4x200m free relay.

The ladies offered less thrills this time – perhaps Anna Kesely’s win in the 400m free stood out as she also clocked an Olympic qualification time; and the multiple European medallist looks to find her way back to top level swimming after some struggles in the past couple of years. With Katinka Hosszu staying on the stands as she is expecting a baby in months, Boglarka Kapas grabbed the opportunity and won the 400m IM (she had come first for a couple of time in the past, last time in 2020), besides her beloved 200m fly. On the last day she celebrated her 30th birthday with a relay gold medal.

Well, there were a couple of ladies who are even more into their 30s, one of them, Evelyn Verraszto – European champion both in long- and short-course – managed to claim a medal again, this time in the 50m free. It means that she was able to stand on the podium 21 years (!) after her first-ever senior championships medal winning performance. Looking at this year’s medallists (including some of the champions, like Betlehem), one should spot that many of them were not even born when Verraszto finished runner-up in 800m free in 2002!

At the end of the meet, head coach Csaba Sos announced a 23-strong roster for the World Championships in Fukuoka – these swimmers booked their respective spots in the events they had made the cut. Though the team is still open, where the Fukuoka standards haven’t been met by anyone (or by just one), those places are up for grabs till June.