Commentary: David Popovici Has Put 200 Freestyle World Record Of Paul Biedermann On Endangered List

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David Popovici: Photo Courtesy: deepbluemedia

Can’t Believe It: David Popovici Has Put 200 Freestyle World Record On Endangered List

My view on the world-record book changed a bit the other day. No, I still don’t see a handful of global standards going anywhere in the immediate future. That record in the women’s 200-meter butterfly? Nope. Don’t see 2:01.81 disappearing. That mark in the men’s 800 freestyle? Nah. That 7:32.12 will hang around for a while.

But toward another event, my mindset has shifted. It took exactly 1:42.97 for the change to occur. That’s the amount of time it took David Popovici to win the 200 freestyle at the European Championships in Rome. The effort was a thing of beauty, and the fastest time ever recorded in a textile suit. It was less than a second off the world record, which has sat at 1:42.00 since the super-suit circus of 2009.

Before the Romanian teenager became the third man in history to dip into the 1:42 realm, only Paul Biedermann and Michael Phelps had visited that territory. Biedermann pulled it off in a fully polyurethane speedboat, while defeating Phelps for the gold medal at the 2009 World Championships. Phelps’ effort (1:42.96) was unveiled at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, where he was suited in partial polyurethane.

It was Biedermann’s farcical swim and steamrolling of Phelps in Rome that prompted coach Bob Bowman to speak up for the purity of the sport. When Biedermann clocked 1:42.00, it supplied a convincing win over Phelps, who touched for the silver medal in 1:43.22. While Biedermann was an elite athlete, for him to produce a rout of Phelps revealed all anyone needed to know about the suits of the era. The sport had moved from talent-based to technology-driven, and Bowman told FINA to get rid of the suits or watch its headliner fade away until swimming – and nothing more – was restored.

Now, before the arrows start flying, allow me to say this: Yes, I realize Popovici remains a second behind the global mark of Biedermann. And I possess a strong enough understanding of this sport to know that one second – especially over four laps – is an eon. Outside of age-group frolics, you don’t just hop in the water and slice a second off your personal best.

But in Popovici, a rarity has emerged and 1:42-flat has gone from the untouchable list to endangered species. As was noted in a column after Popovici broke the world record in the 100 freestyle on the third night of the European Championships, the 17-year-old is a generational talent. He is akin to Ian Thorpe and Phelps, someone who comes along once in a long while and is blessed with the ability, coupled with hard work, to do special things.

So, let’s look at Biedermann’s world record and what Popovici unfurled in Rome.

The only lap in which Popovici split faster than the German was the opening 50 meters, where the teen was out in 24.10. By comparison, Biedermann was 24.23 on the front. The last three 50s all belonged to Biedermann, which makes sense due to the supersuit’s penchant for supplying buoyancy and, thus, allowing the athlete reserve energy.

Biedermann split 25.89 for his second lap and went through the midway point of his race in 50.12. As for Popovici, he was 26.25 on the second 50, enabling him to split 50.35 at the 100-meter mark. On the third length, Biedermann’s 26.18 led to a 1:16.30 mark at the 150, with Popovici at 1:16.96 after a third lap of 26.61. On the way home, Biedermann split 25.70, compared to the 26.01 of the Romanian.

Biedermann: 24.23 – 50.12 (25.89) – 1:16.30 (26.18) – 1:42.00 (25.70)

Popovici: 24.10 – 50.35 (26.25) – 1:16.96 (26.61) – 1:42.97 (26.01)

The biggest difference in Biedermann’s 13-year-old record and Popovici’s textile standard is found in the back half. Popovici was only .23 off the pace at 100 meters. However, Biedermann went 51.78 for his closing 100 meters, opposed to Popovici and his 52.62.

Popovici is already the greatest closer the 100 freestyle has seen, armed with 24-flat skill over the last length of the pool. Smooth and efficient, he’s always going to bring a race home, and that will also be the case in the 200 freestyle. More, as a 17-year-old who seemingly gets better by the day, Popovici is just tapping into his potential.

While the teen will never have the benefit of a rubber suit to get to the wall when his muscles are burning, he’s likely to go out faster in the event in the years ahead. Greater early speed will provide a cushion of sorts against the Biedermann back half. More, Popovici is going to close faster. How do we know? Basically, this kid is the complete package, and it’s impossible to not see him leap to another level.

His mentality and approach with coach Adrian Radulescu is like the Phelps-Bowman perspective. They’re always looking ahead, hungry to achieve something bigger. They can change minds, and have. Yep, Popovici will take down Biedermann.

Maybe next year.

Maybe 2024.

Someday, for sure.

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