Romanian Teen David Popovici Ascends Sport’s Throne As Male World Swimmer Of the Year (See Full Voting)

David Popovici

Romanian Teen David Popovici Ascends Sport’s Throne As Male World Swimmer Of the Year

A little more than a year ago, based on his precocious talent, we dubbed him “The Boy Who Might Be King.” There was David Popovici, splashed on the cover of Swimming World Magazine, the accompanying article suggesting a career of vast success. It was a bold prediction to be sure, but one predicated on early evidence.

Now, as the curtain closes on 2022, Popovici again graces the cover of Swimming World. This time, however, his appearance has nothing to do with potential and everything to do with sheer talent and his status as one of the prominent figures in the sport. As just an 18-year-old, the Romanian youth is the Male World Swimmer of the Year, an honor earned in dominant fashion.

In voting conducted by a global panel of 11 journalists, Popovici was a unanimous selection as World and European Swimmer of the Year. His 55 points easily outdistanced the 36 points of runner-up Kristof Milak of Hungary, with Frenchman Leon Marchand finishing third with 28 points. Popovici supplants Caeleb Dressel in the No. 1 spot, the American having won back-to-back awards in 2019 and 2021. There was no distinction in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

As the World Championships in Budapest approached in the middle of the year, Popovici was designated as a contender for gold in the 100-meter freestyle and 200 freestyle. Indeed, he left the Duna Arena with titles in both events, the 200 freestyle secured with ease in 1:43.21. The 100 freestyle, though, was a challenge, as Popovici eked out a 47.58-to-47.64 decision over France’s Maxime Grousset.

From that point forward, Popovici raced in a different realm. He routinely clocked sub-48 performances in the 100 freestyle, making that once magical barrier seem like a play toy. And he used the European Championships at the revered Foro Italico in Rome as the stage for his greatest exploits to date.

In the 100 freestyle, Popovici defined himself as a world record setter. Following years of pursuits, including assaults by Dressel and Aussie Kyle Chalmers, Popovici took down the 2009 standard of Brazilian Cesar Cielo. In 46.86, the Romanian cut 5-hundredths off the former record and entered swimming lore. For good measure, he clocked 1:42.97 in the 200 freestyle, good for the No. 3 mark in history and the fastest in a textile suit.

“It’s nice being able to say that I’m the fastest to ever do it at this distance,” Popovici said of his maiden world record. “It’s a good thing to know I clashed with all of the titans of this race and distance.”

When Cielo set the previous world record, he rocketed down the first lap, and then held on over the closing 50 meters. Popovici goes about his business differently.

While he has superb front-end speed, it is Popovici’s back-half excellence that separates him from the opposition. In Rome, his opening lap of 22.74 was followed by an other-worldly effort of 24.12 into the wall. That 24-low closing speed has become a trademark—and a warning to foes.

On 16 occasions during the 2022 campaign, an impressive career total for most, Popovici cracked the 48-second threshold in the 100 freestyle. Twice, he went sub-47, and in seven swims, Popovici was 47.23 or faster.

If it was previously viewed as hyperbole to compare Popovici’s teen talent to that of legends Ian Thorpe and Michael Phelps, that criticism has dissipated. The youngster is a generational talent who could take his events to never-before-seen heights.

David Popovici was once deemed a future king in the sport. He now sits on the throne, the crown earned.

1. DAVID POPOVICI, Romania (11) 55
2. Kristof Milak, Hungary 36
3. Leon Marchand, France 28
4. Thomas Ceccon, Italy 21
5. Zac Stubblety-Cook, Australia 13

1. DAVID POPOVICI, Romania (11) 55
2. Kristof Milak, Hungary 37
3. Leon Marchand, France 32
4. Thomas Ceccon, Italy 27
5. Nicolo Martinenghi, Italy 9

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