David Popovici Sends Message: Don’t Forget About Romanian Teenage Dynamo in Paris

David Popovici of Romania receives the Athlete of the Year award during the 20th World Aquatics Championships at the Marine Messe Hall A in Fukuoka (Japan), July 23rd, 2023.
David Popovici -- Photo Courtesy: Giorgio Scala / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

David Popovici Sends Message: Don’t Forget About Romanian Teenage Dynamo in Paris

Just over 10 months ago, David Popovici arrived at his second World Championships still riding the momentum of a historic summer in 2022. He had captured world titles in the 100 and 200 freestyle before lowering a 13-year-old global standard in the 100 free and then becoming the first man in a textile suit to break 1:43 in a textile suit over 200 meters. He was the big favorite for a world title in the 100 and a near-lock in the 200.

But that apparent reality came crumbling down as he struggled down the stretch of the 200 free final. He led for the first 150 meters of the race, the margin eight tenths over South Korea’s Hwang Sunwoo, and he was poised to pull away down the stretch. Except he instead produced the slowest mark in the field, more than a second behind any of the three medalists. Great Britain’s Matt Richards took gold in 1:44.30, a whopping 1.33 seconds outside Popovici’s best time, while the Romanian ended up fourth. In a tight field in the 100 free two days later, Popovici fell to sixth place, with his closing split the second slowest in the field.

In an outcome that would have been shocking prior to the meet, Popovici left Fukuoka without a medal. Perhaps he was not an unbeatable force poised to dominate freestyle racing for years to come. Still, with the talent he had displayed both in his grand 2022 performance and in bursting onto the scene literal weeks before the Tokyo Olympics and nearly snagging a medal, it would have been foolish to write off Popovici moving forward.

As we move closer to the Paris Games, the Romanian is beginning to show signs of his most dangerous form, as evidenced by his win in the 200 free Wednesday at the Mare Nostrum meet in Barcelona. It was vintage Popovici: stay close with his rivals through the halfway point, then go. Popovici was again racing Hwang, a medalist in the event at the last three World Championships and the champion at the sparsely-attended Doha meet in February. In this race, Popovici jumped from nearly dead even to six tenths ahead on the third lap, showing the back-half form that makes him so dangerous.

David Popovici of Romania competes in the Men's Freestyle 200m Heats during the 20th World Aquatics Championships at the Marine Messe Hall A in Fukuoka (Japan), July 24th, 2023.

David Popovici — Photo Courtesy: Andrea Masini / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

Popovici’s final time was 1:44.74, a hundredth ahead of the mark Hwang clocked for gold in Doha and slightly quicker than Popovic went in that disastrous World Championships performance last July. But consider the splitting: Popovici finished in a 26.56 split, more than one-and-a-half seconds ahead of his split from Fukuoka.

Add that final split to his opening 150 from last year (1:16.78), and that would put Popovici at 1:43.34 — almost a second faster than any other swimmer has clocked in the last decade.

Is that combination of splits realistic? Maybe not, definitely not prior to a championship meet, but the point is that we’re seeing the pieces, hints of the form that once yielded a world record and some of history’s fastest freestyle performances. And beating one of your closest rivals by almost a second one month out from the Olympics? Always a good sign for your chances.

Popovici now ranks third globally in the 200 free, but remember that Lukas Martens (1:44.14) and Richards (1:44.69) both had to swim close to their peaks at their respective countries’ Olympic selection meets. Popovici had less pressure to focus on any meet prior to the Olympics.

It’s easy to forget given his place in the sport’s hierarchy in recent years, but Popovici is still only 19 years old, born a month after the “Race of the Century” between 200 freestyle greats Ian ThorpePieter van den Hoogenband and Michael Phelps at the Athens Olympics. Popovici has already joined them as an all-timer in the event, and he appears to be building toward another spotlight performance.

Notify of

Welcome to our community. We invite you to join our discussion. Our community guidelines are simple: be respectful and constructive, keep on topic, and support your fellow commenters. Commenting signifies that you agree to our Terms of Use

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
3 days ago

He could deliver on the mentioned potential at Paris. I hope he medals in both races, tajes Gold in the 200m with a WR and places behind a winning Kyle in the 100m!

Oliver K.
Oliver K.
3 days ago
Reply to  Kanga1

That 200 Meter WR ist safe, one has to be at 1:16 at 150 meter and coming home under 26 seconds.
No way that WR will fall in Paris.

2 days ago
Reply to  Oliver K.

The German (Martens?) came close recently. So I think it and the 400m plus 800m freestyle are all under threat.

Last edited 2 days ago by Kanga1
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x