He was born in Moscow in 1941, during WWII, and grew up in Moscow at the height of the cold war. It was when sports in the Soviet Union were under the supervision of the ministry of defense and Boris Popov began his playing water polo at the TsSK Navy Children’s School. From 1960 through 1973 he played for the Moscow State University team and in 1964, was a member of the Soviet team that won the bronze medal at the Tokyo Olympics and gold at the 1966 European Championships.
After his MSU team won the European Champions Cup in 1973, he gave up his water polo career as a player and began coaching for Burevestnik, Moscow. The next year he was selected to be the coach of the National Junior Team, and his team brought home gold in 1975 and in 1978 at the European Junior Championships.
In 1972, the Soviet Union had won the gold medal at the Munich Games, but at the 1976 Montreal Olympic Games, the team placed a disappointing eighth. For the next several years they failed to reach the podium at all major international tournaments.
Popov’s success with the Junior Team was noticed and in 1979 he was selected to lead the U.S.S.R. National Senior Team, with the core of players he had developed at the junior level, including Hall of Fame goalkeeper, Evgeny Sharanov. Mixing the younger players with veterans Aleksei Barkalov and Aleksandr Kabanov, Popov led his team to the gold medal in their hometown of Moscow, at the 1980 Summer Olympics.
The Soviet team did not lose a game during the entire Olympic tournament at the 1980 Games. They went undefeated again at the II FINA World Cup in Long Beach in 1981. They won gold again at the 1982 FINA World Championship in Guayaquil and again at the 1983 FINA World Cup in Malibu. Unfortunately, the world never got to see what the Soviets could do at the Los Angeles Olympic Games due to the Soviet Block’s retaliatory boycott in 1984. However, after the 1984 Olympic Games concluded, the Soviets won the gold at a tournament in Havana, Cuba that featured the nations who boycotted LA.
Because the Soviets, Hungarians and other nations had boycotted the LA Games, they were banned by FINA from the 1985 World Cup - but the Soviet success continued by winning the gold medal at the European Championships in 1985 and 1987, and won gold at the 1986 and 1988 Goodwill Games. At the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games, the team won bronze and after winning the 1989 European Championships, they took bronze again at the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona.
In the years 1993 and 1994, Popov left Russia and went to Greece and his former player and assistant coach, Alexandr Kabanov took over the team. After the Russians finished a disappointing fifth in Atlanta, Popov was back in charge and directed with getting the team ready for Sydney 2000. The team placed fourth in the1999 FINA World Cup, and in Sydney, Australia.
After so much success, the failure to reach the podium in 1999 and 2000 was a major disappointment and the Russian Federation returned the reigns of the team once again to Kabanov, but with poor results. Popov was back in charge by 2006 until he retired in 2008.
It must be said that after the breakup of the Soviet Union, there was a great deal of social and economic problems that had a devastating effect on the fortunes of Russian water polo. They are just now recovering.
Currently, Boris Popov is the Vice President of the Russian Water Polo Federation. He is living in the city of Kirishi and devoting his time to the development of children’s water polo in the Leningrad region.