A capacity crowd at the FINA World Championships was deprived of one star on Tuesday night as Caeleb Dressel was scratched, but saw the one they wanted, roaring local hero Kristof Milak to a world record.
Milak won the event he dominates, the 200m butterfly, while Dressel, the defending champion, pulled out of the 100m freestyle semi-finals and mixed medley relay just before the session. That called into question the much anticipated showdown between the two in the 100m butterfly, where Dressel holds the world record and edged Milak in the Tokyo Olympic final last year.
“Whether Dressel is there or not, I will stand there and do everything I can in the 100 fly for a gold or a silver or a world record, this is all my focus,” Milak said after his win. “Of course it would be better if my big opponent was here, at home as it were, for a head-to-head fight.”
Dressel had swum in Tuesday morning’s heats in the 100 freestyle, finishing second-fastest to Romanian teenage sensation David Popovici. Dressel won the event at the last two world championships and at last year’s Olympics.
“A decision has been made by Team USA in consultation with Caeleb, his coach and the team’s medical staff for him to withdraw from the 100-meter freestyle event on medical grounds. The team will determine his participation in the events later in the week,” a US team statement said.
They refused to give any more details.
For Milak’s final, a close to capacity crowd produced the famed Duna roar for the first time this week.
Milak, the reigning Olympic champion, racing in lane four which goes to the fastest qualifier, responded with 1 minutes, 50.34 seconds to shave 0.39 seconds off the world record he set winning the last world title in 2019.
It was Hungary’s first gold of the competition.
“It’s a completely different experience to go out there to the pool in front of so many people who are rooting for you and who you are swimming for, it’s a mutual thing,” Milak told Hungarian television. “When I stepped on the blocks and got ready I felt as if I was in a dream, a feeling of being so in the flow.”
“This is my home, my pool. I train here, I race four, lane four belongs to me. I really wanted to show something big for these fantastic people,” he said.
Milak beat France’s Leon Marchand by a huge 3.03 seconds, but said that energy from the crowd had not been entirely beneficial.
“I went off so quick, the first 50 was stronger than ever, driven by the crowd, that meant the remaining three 50s weren’t good,” he said. “From a technical point of view it wasn’t a good swim, or a clever swim, but if I am a little more clever, and with more training, then, hopefully, I can get an even better time.”
Without Dressel, the US ended the evening by taking gold in the 4x100m mixed medley relay ahead of Australia and the Netherlands.
US Olympic champion Bobby Finke made another late surge to grab gold in the men’s 800m freestyle. Ukrainian Mykhailo Romanchuk led for half the race and went into the final turn first with Finke back in fourth.
As he did in Tokyo, the American’s last-lap sprint carried him to victory. His time of 7 minutes, 39.36 seconds was a US record.
German Olympic open-water champion Florian Wellbrock also slipped past his training partner Romanchuk at the end to grab silver. Wellbrock invited Romanchuk to join him in Magdeburg following the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February.
Another American, Nic Fink, won the men’s breaststroke 50m sprint. He edged 100m gold medallist Nicolo Martinenghi by a microscopic 0.03 seconds.
Yang Junxuan won the women’s 200m freestyle to take China’s first gold of the week.
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