European Championships: With Title in 50 Freestyle, Sarah Sjostrom Breaks Alex Popov Record

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European Championships: Sarah Sjostrom Blasts Field in 50 Freestyle; Sets European Medals Record

This wasn’t a summer that produced personal-best performances. It wasn’t a summer that featured jam-packed schedules. Rather, Sarah Sjostrom spent the past few months in management mode, fully aware that two years from now in Paris – not 2022 in Budapest and Rome – is what matters most in the scheme of her Hall of Fame career.

For the Swedish superstar, though, a toned-down approach still produces excellence.

Following up her earlier title in the 50-meter butterfly, Sjostrom blasted her way to the gold medal in the 50 freestyle at the European Championships on Tuesday night. Racing at the Foro Italico in Rome, Sjostrom popped a time of 23.91, which handed the 28-year-old (29 tomorrow) her second continental crown in the event. Sjostrom also prevailed in the 50 freestyle at the 2018 Euro Champs, and with 27 career medals at the European Championships, she moved one ahead of the legendary Alexander Popov for first on the list.

Finishing behind Sjostrom was Poland’s Kasia Wasick, who touched in 24.20. The bronze medal went to the Netherlands’ Valerie van Roon, who recorded a time of 24.64.

This week in Rome, Sjostrom adopted a minimalist program – contesting just the 50 butterfly and 50 freestyle. The meet was a chance to focus on the sprint disciplines and simply maneuver through a competition calendar that leads to the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris.

The approach is a savvy one by the veteran, whose summer already included the World Championships in Budapest. There, Sjostrom doubled in the 50 freestyle and 50 butterfly, and was the silver medalist in the 100 freestyle. Just before the European Championships started, Sjostrom indicated the 100 freestyle will return to her agenda, but not until she gave herself a deserved break from years of extensive big-meet schedules.

A question moving forward is whether the 100 butterfly will make a return to Sjostrom’s plans. That was the event which launched her star on the international stage. Yet, Sjostrom passed on the discipline during both of her major summer competitions and has not guaranteed it has a future. Obviously, time will tell.

What is known is Sjostrom’s continued greatness in the 50 freestyle. The world-record holder at 23.67, Sjostrom led all three rounds in Rome and was never in danger of missing the top step of the podium.

“I’m super happy with this gold medal,” Sjostrom said. “It always makes me happy when I can go under 24, even more when I manage to do it in a final when it counts the most. I think my number of medals continue going up and I’m really enjoying myself here. Now when I look up the stands and I feel the support and energy, I know why I’m doing this and why I want to go on. It just makes it all worthwhile.”

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