Kristóf Milák: “What can I do? I cannot swim slower!” (Photo: Reuters)

Kristóf Milák was the most successful swimmer on the Hungarian team at the European Championships in Rome. He added three gold and two silver medals to his collection – not to mention winning the 200m butterfly with the seventh best time in the world's all-time rankings.

„I didn't care what time I swam, I reached the finish and turned around. I had to wait a bit for the others to finish – the main thing was to get Ricsi Márton on the podium. I was hoping for a bronze medal for him, but it turned out to be a silver, that's what's important and not the modest time I swam."

We are starting to take it for granted that when the 200m butterfly comes, the Hungarian gold medal comes with it – no matter if it's the Olympics, the World Championships, or the European Championships.

It is easy to get used to the good, of course, and we should thank God that Kristóf Milák was born Hungarian, that he found swimming as a child and that swimming found him.

„In a music talent show, even I can hear who has a beautiful voice, it's not that difficult. The buffet lady in the swimming pool would have spotted Kristóf's talent,” said head coach Csaba Sós, because it is clear that this boy was born to swim.

And slowly and slowly, we are getting to the point where we no longer need to narrow the circle down and say that Milák was born for the butterfly.

 „The 100m butterfly went well, although not as well as I would have liked. If I don't have someone next to me who can bring out the best in me, then that’s what happens. For now. I'm working on being able to get the most out of myself in the hundred on my own. I don't feel as good on the 100m butterfly as I do on the 200.”

That we'll get there sooner or later was perfectly proven by the recent European Championships in Rome, where Kristóf Milák not only won the 200m butterfly but also the 100m butterfly. This all means that he doubled again after the European Championships in Budapest last year, he won the silver medal in the 100m freestyle, and he also made a great impression as the finishing man of the 4x200 and 4x100 freestyle relays – he led the former to a gold and the latter to a silver medal. And he really did.

Nándor Németh, Richárd Márton, and Balázs Holló also had a great time in the 4x200 freestyle relay final, but it’s still a fact that the French were one second and the Italians were one-tenth of a second ahead of us before the last 200 meters – but Kristóf Milák came at the end, and no team had such a man. That time of 1:44.42 was not really born at the Foro Italico but in another universe... It is the story of the 100th Hungarian swimming gold medal at the European Championships - and it is also the story of the last men in the Italian and French team whom Milák swam over by a second and two and a half seconds, respectively.

And as the last man of the 4x100 freestyle relay, he put a 47.24 time on the table – in the sprint, though, he swam a national record and finished in second place, so with a „normal” start, the time of 47.47 doesn't look bad either...

„What can I do, I can't swim slower"
he commented on one of his swims to his coach Balázs Virth in Rome.

But if we think about it, this boy's name actually came into the spotlight five years ago, at the World Championships in Budapest, where he won a silver medal.

„It was easy to finish this relay like this because all three guys in front of me swam brilliantly. We are all very happy to have won Hungary's hundredth European gold medal. We took this final seriously, everyone did their best and that brought us victory.”

„My first memory of Kristóf is that his flip turns were incredibly bad," recalled Attila Selmeci, Milák's former coach. "Then he won the 100m butterfly at a junior national championship, and although he had previously competed more in backstroke and freestyle, I started to think that this kid could be really good in butterfly. And he got better and better in his age group, but not just at home. And then at the 2016 Youth European Championships in Hódmezővásárhely, he swam 1:56.77 in the 200m butterfly, and we were just standing there asking, „How did he do that?” Being a cautious person, I said: anything could happen. Shortly before the 2017 World Championships at home, he moved up to second place in the adult world rankings in the 200m butterfly at the Youth European Championships in Netanya. At that point, I didn't feel that anything could happen, but that he was a world-class athlete.”

At that time, the world-class swimmer was only" born for the pool, Kristóf could hardly find himself at the poolside.

Meaning that Csaba Sós, the head coach, praised him in vain: „You know what I like most about you? That you've got balls, you are not afraid of anything!!" Milák was still quite "shy" on the poolside at that time. Although he tried to answer the journalists who questioned him with well-worded sentences, he was unsure: "What do I have to say now? Did I do a good job? Sometimes I look back at my interviews beside my swims. Sometimes my face burns because I could have said something else, in a different way. I'm practicing that, but I'm not doing that well yet.”

Milák has already made great improvements in this field, although he recently admitted self-critically, „I readily admit that I am not progressing at the same speed in giving interviews as in swimming.”

„I didn't trust myself as much as I was capable of. Can Popovici be beaten? The problem is that after this, he will do in freestyle what I have done in butterfly. He will probably be the same genius that I am and will be. We're both above the rest in our own events, but I like challenges.”

Because he is really coming on leaps and bounds in swimming - he burst into the senior scene in the summer of 2017 and in the last five years, he has grown to be one of the sport's biggest stars. That's why we take it for granted that when Milák takes to the starting block at an international event, he will definitely win a (gold) medal.

In the 200m buttery for sure, but this will change!

The world-class swimmer, who has been working with Balázs Virth since Tokyo, does not count the medals, saying, „That's the journalists’ and fans’ job, not mine. I'm not so interested in how many medals I've won in the past. I always think in the time results.”

The experience is already there among the seniors, but we could say that the years at the top have confirmed it in Kristóf – we didn't blink an eye when he described his 1:52.01 as a modest time" after winning another gold in the 200m butterfly in Rome.

Just for the record, this is the seventh best time of all time...

„After the final of the 100m butterfly, the semifinal of the 200m freestyle was close, so I couldn't take it anymore. After that, I tried to relax, and as I give it my all in the individual events, I think I did well in the relay at the end of the program as well. I am happy with the relay silver.”

That's not why Milák was smiling in Rome, but he was happier about the silver medal of his friend and teammate, Richárd Márton – and the fact that he invited his compatriot to join him on the top of the podium during the medal ceremony was, not to put it too literarily, but everything.

There he gave a little glimpse of the Kristóf Milák whom few people know because the champion only lets a few people get really close to him.

But that scene did show that he had a sensitive heart and was looking out for his friends.
As well. But mostly for himself.


Kristóf Milák and Richárd Márton

And while this sometimes brings difficult moments and interesting situations accordingly (in the pool, in competition, in the mixed zone...), we are also learning that a world-class athlete often needs to be treated differently.

When Kristóf appeared in the crowd of journalists at the end of the European Championships in Rome, one of them remarked that it was very difficult to ask him anything new or different – and Milák's face brightened up:

„Well, finally something! You have to think about what you ask! Yes, I have achieved that too!”

True, the new question was followed by long silence, because Milák does not like to talk about himself. Therefore, he does not speak.

But he says he does the same ordinary things in everyday life as everyone else.

He saves the big bangs for the water.

Kristóf Milák saves the big bangs for the water (Photo: Reuters)

And there will be a lot more of these, no doubt: the increasingly frequent parallel between Tamás Darnyi and Kristóf Milák has been quite clearly revealed by the star of the present. Except that instead of And you haven't seen everything yet!", which appeared on several portals, Milák actually said, And you haven't seen anything yet!"

Only one Olympic gold and silver medal, three world titles and two world records, one World Championship second place, five individual continental championship wins, and one European Championship silver medal.

So, in light of this, let's write down once again the sentence that Kristóf Milák said when it was suggested to him that they had not seen such a swimmer since Tamás Darnyi: And you have not seen anything yet!"


After the Tokyo Olympics, Kristóf Milák got together with Balázs Virth - after two World Championship golds (and a world record) and the collection in Rome show that our world-class athlete made the right choice.
– What was the first year like with Kristóf Milák?
– Difficult and easy – said Balázs Virth.
– Meaning?
– We opened with a short course European Championship, and the 25m pool is not Kristóf's field, and then the coronavirus came. Then we somehow straightened up, but we couldn't get up because he got sick again. But after the national championships at the end of April, everything was great - I had several heart attacks before, but after that, it was a real pleasure to work together.
– What made it enjoyable?
– I experienced a new side of him. I've known Kristóf for a long time, but what I saw from the outside is only one way of looking at him, from the inside, up close, everything is different.
– What did you see from the outside and then what did you see from the inside?
– Many people consider Kristóf a difficult person, and I've said that some people were sorry for me for working with him, but I got to know him better and I learned more and more about the athlete, and I also got to know him as a man. When you asked me what the last year had been like, and I said it was difficult, I said it because there was always some external circumstance that prevented us from moving forward. But the trust between us was built up quite quickly.
– But for this, an experienced coach was needed.
– And a great conversation before working together. At that time, I said that I would continue the work he had done with Attila Selmeci because I thought it was good, but in order to get to know the swimmer Kristóf Milák as soon and as good as possible, I also needed feedback - from him. And it has worked from the very first moment, Kristóf really enjoys being able to give his opinion, he appreciates that I involve him in the professional work.
– Do you do the same with your other athletes?
– Yes. We're talking about adults who want to achieve the best possible results in swimming, so they never look for ways to get out of their work, even if they show signs of being tired. It is not a case of avoiding work, it is essential for progress here that I, the coach, also know what triggers new stimuli.
Kristóf said that you allowed him a four-week break, but he thinks less would be enough, too. Have you reached a deal?
– We'll start work in three weeks - if he wants it, let's do it!
– We tend to take it for granted that if it's 200m butterfly, it's a Milák gold, whatever world competition we’re talking about. How much work is behind the "naturalness"?
– Plenty. And let's not forget that the final of the 200m butterfly was Kristóf's fourteenth start in Rome. That's a lot. When the American Caeleb Dressel withdrew from the World Championships in Budapest, many said that Kristóf got gifted the 100m butterfly gold medal - but there’s no such thing! In the final of the 200m butterfly in Rome, I could already see in Kristóf's movements that he was tired.
– And he swam a time of 1:52 in such condition. That should make you satisfied.
– Anything can happen... None of us are the lean-back-and-watch type, and everyone in Rome experienced that. Kristóf undertook such a tough program to see what he could endure. By the way, he showed me something new at this European Championship as well: he was always most curious about what he did wrong. He had barely gotten out of the pool before he asked me: what did I do wrong? And what was also new was that he ran back to the pool after the question - to cheer on his teammate, Richard Márton. I'd like to mention that György Zala, the fitness coach, was very helpful for this difficult program, as he always assessed how tired or fresh Kristóf was and adjusted the ground warm-up accordingly. We are constantly working to make Kristóf as good as possible - in as many events as possible.
– Is the sky the limit?
– Let's not be so cryptic! People have often said that Kristóf is a genius, that he is a great talent, but people tend to think that such athletes do nothing in training and parade themselves in competitions. I don't deny that there are some tasks in training, such as monotonous endurance exercises, that Kristóf doesn't like, but he still does them all. And when it comes to intensity, he swims times that I've never seen by a human before. So, it's not true that he doesn't work during training. I am proud of what he achieved in Rome, but even more so of the way he behaved. I'm also proud to be his coach.