At the age of 17, David Popovici is the new phenomenon of swimming in the world

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The champion of 100m freestyle then 200m, David Popovici, 17, spread the European swimming championship with his talent. What predicts an amazing career for the Romanian wonder.

Where will David Popovici stop? The question arose as the 17-year-old Romanian prodigy appeared at the European Swimming Championships in Rome. On Monday August 15, he became the European champion in the 200m freestyle (1’42”97) but also the third best performer of all time at this distance.

In the history of swimming, only two people have been faster than him in two hectares: Paul Biedermann, who set the record in 2009 (1’42”00) when wetsuits were allowed, and the American legend Michael Phelps, for the small hundred (1’42”96).


Asked at the beginning of the week about the possibility of reaching the world record of the German swimmer, established in this same swimming pool of the Foro Italico, Popovici, philosopher, answered: “Pablo is a man, he was a man when he broke the record, and we’re all human. I think it’s as simple as that.”

He started his weekend like “simple”: a title in 100m and above all a world record in the distance. Popovici thus improved the five hundred mark of the Brazilian César Cielo, dated from 2009, by swimming the round trip of 46 “86. A mark established with the help of a combination, moreover.

A former sloth has become an ascetic

David Popovici was born in Romania in 2004, the year Michael Phelps made his Olympic debut in Greece. His parents launched him into swimming on the advice of a doctor, above all to correct the problems of scoliosis.

His talent quickly became apparent. He came to Adrian Radulescu’s club, whom he still calls “Mr. Adri” today. A trainer with whom he developed a close relationship.

The coach assures his colt has the legs – and arms – as well as the head to win. He told this anecdote: “We were in training, he must have been ten years old, we organized a competition for swimmers of the same age. Twenty-five meters to swim and the last one was removed. Two boys who is better than him, we started the game. Every time David took the second to last. In the front they wanted to prove that they were good and they were tired. In the final the last had no strength and David won. So at the age of ten years old. , he already has intelligence and talent.”

“He is not easy​​​​to train but he has something special: the competitive spirit, in addition to intelligence and talent. When he wants to, he swims very fast for the little training he imposes on himself “, recalled his coach to L’Équipe. “A minimum effort for a maximum effect. It is a challenge to succeed in activating this competitive spirit so that it agrees to work.”

Yesterday’s dilettante has become a formidable competitor. “I broke my first national record at ten years old. Then I was addicted to the feeling of the top step of the podium,” he said in an interview with the International Federation.

The life of a great swimmer is similar to that of a priest. You have to be in the pool from early morning, work until tired, don’t go out at night. Far from the life of a normal teenager. More than one athlete has burned there, like Laure Manaudou or Ian Thorpe, who both announced their first retirement from the sport at the age of 22 and 23. David Popovici, it seems that he enjoys the life of a monk of his own, assures that “Mr. Adri” shows him that swimming is a “joy”.

In the light of Tokyo, dedicated to Budapest

It is already in Rome, during the European Junior Championships in 2021, that he sends a first message to the swimming planet. He crushed the junior world record in 100m with 47″30. It was also the best world performance of the year, one hundredth better than Kliment Kolesnikov’s 47″31.

Popovici confirmed a few weeks later. The youngest member of the Romanian delegation at the Tokyo Olympics, he just lacked a first Olympic medal: two hundred separated him from the bronze in the 200m freestyle final. Everyone now has a prodigy’s eye, which hasn’t even finished growing.

>> Also read: Swimming: Caeleb Dressel and Emma McKeon, king and queen of the Olympic pool

It was over when he arrived at the world championships in Budapest. With his endless arms, his 2.05 m wingspan and his 90 meters for 80 kg, David Popovici impressed. He did the 100m / 200m double, a performance that has so far only been achieved by the American Jim Montgomery in 1973. In fact, Caeleb Dressel, the most dominant swimmer at the moment, was not present, but the feat was amazing. In the process, he confirmed his dominance at home, in Bucharest, at the European Junior Championships, with three titles (50 m / 100 m / 200 m freestyle).

Impressed by his Olympic performances, several American universities offered him to come and train with them. But unlike another prodigy, the French Léon Marchand, who left to train in Arizona, prefers to stay in Romania with his lifelong coach, Adrian Radulescu.

A bit insolent, David Popovici made sure his crazy summer didn’t end. This Wednesday, he will line up for the 400m series, a short distance he has been practicing. Then he will fly to Lima in Peru to compete in the junior world championships, where it will be hard to see who will challenge his dominance.

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