A world record swim in the 200m fly is a kind of guarantee for Hungary’s poster boy Kristof Milak to be voted the best male athlete in Hungary. It had happened in 2019, when he stunned the world by bringing down Michael Phelps’ iconic 1:51.51 WR in Gwangju (1:50.73) – and now, three years later, he managed to further improve his own mark (1:50.34) while winning the 200m fly in front of 5,000 yelling fans in Budapest at the FINA World Championships last June.

This, plus his first-ever 100m fly world title, then his best-ever medal haul at the Europeans (three titles: 100-200m fly, 4x200m free relay, and two silvers: 100m free, 4x100m free relay) gave him the necessary edge to earn his second best of the year award after 2019.

Image Source: Hungarian Swimming Federation / Kristof Milak with Luca Kozák, winner of the Female Athlete of the Year (track-and-field athlete)

This was quite a feat as the male field was especially strong in 2022. Indeed, Milak managed to finish ahead of Hungary’s first-ever individual winter Olympic champion Liu Shaoang who won the 500m event in short-track speed skating in Beijing last February. And there was Hungary's other household name Aron Szilagyi, the magician fencer, who won three straight individual Olympic golds in sabre (his third victory, in Tokyo, pushed him ahead of Milak last year in this same voting) – and now he claimed his first individual World Championship victory and further medals in the team event.

Image Source: Tom Pennington/Getty Images

However, Milak’s super-impressive summer performance weighed more among the voters and members of the Hungarian Sportswriters’ Association. Milak also impressed the audience with his outfit – admittedly keen to wear new suits at these occasions to show his respect towards the event – and once announced as the winner, he received loud applause in the State Opera House, Budapest’s iconic building from the 19th century. (Soon after it hosted the FINA Gala Dinner at the 2017 World Championships, it was closed for refurbishment and it took five years to give back the house its original splendour.)

Attended by legends of the Hungarian sport, including the oldest living Olympic champion, 102-year-old gymnast Agnes Keleti, and 90-year-old Valeria Gyenge, winner of the 400m free at the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki, as well as State President Katalin Novak and other nobilities, the gala offered a spectacular show as usual.

Image Source: Al Bello/Getty Images

“I predicted a second place for myself so it’s a pleasant surprise that I was voted first,” Milak said afterwards. “I’m so happy and proud – and also a bit stunned so I looked for words on stage and that’s why I lost them for a while during my speech.”

The reigning Olympic, world and European champion in the 200m butterfly admitted that he was always looking for more and more in the future.

“I never stopped talking about like OK, I’m fine with all these achievements but I want more. Then at events like this, I recognise that I need to live more in the present, appreciate more what happens to me right here, right now, and give more credit for myself what I’ve already done in swimming. I’ll work on this for sure.”

Still, Mr. Butterfly has already set his eyes on the 2023 challenges, with the World Aquatics Championships in Fukuoka on top.

"We’ll have several great events this year, including the Athletics Worlds in Budapest – I just try to achieve something great in our ‘little’ Far East meet which may earn me a spot in the Top three once more at the following Athlete of the Year Awards," Milak said. "It’s already a great honour to be among the best ones – winning is just the icing on the cake."


Article courtesy of the Hungarian Swimming Federation