Romania's David Popovici reacts after winning and setting a new world record. Picture: Albert Pilozzi

Phenomenon, 17, breaks 13-year-old world record in 100m freestyle

When David Popovici sped ahead of his older rivals in the pool this summer, it seemed inevitable that the lanky 17-year-old would threaten world records. The only surprise when he crossed the line in the 100m freestyle in Rome on Saturday was that he got so fast.

On Friday, the Romanian became only the fourth man in history to swim under 47 seconds when he set a European record to win the semi-final at the European Championships in Rome.

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That was more than half a second faster than his gold medal time at the world championships in June.

He went even faster on Saturday, swimming 46.86 seconds to shave 0.05 seconds off the record set by Brazil’s Cesar Cielo at the 2009 World Championships, also in Rome, in the exuberant wetsuit era.

“I said yesterday that the European record was just a step in the right direction – and I was right. There was no rush and I had to be extremely patient about the world record,” he said after his victory.

At the World Championships in Budapest, Popovici overtook Caeleb Dressel in the heats, who swam the fastest 100 m in a textile suit.

The Olympic champion withdrew from the competition before the semi-finals.

Romanian David Popovici set a new world record in the men’s 100m freestyle. (Photo Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP)Source: AFP

“It’s nice to be able to say I’m the fastest to ever do it and it’s good to know I’ve gone up against all the titans of this race.”

His coach Adrian Radulescu said that even he was surprised by the speed of Popovici’s progress.

“It’s amazing that it’s happening so early,” said Radulescu, just 32.

Asked Thursday what makes him successful, Popovici acknowledged that success comes at a cost.

“When Erling Haaland, the footballer, was asked the same question, he answered ‘hard work’, so it’s really a lot of hard work and a lot of sacrifice and it’s all about how much you want it. it; and I really, really want it!”

“What are you willing to do when others are not? That includes living a completely different lifestyle.”

This summer, Popovici dominated the World and European Junior Championships in his hometown of Bucharest.

After Rome, he plans to head to the World Junior Championships in Lima

“Really, all I want from this meeting and the world juniors in Peru is just to have fun. Medals, records, everything, good times are just a bonus. If we manage to have fun, it’s very satisfying,” he said.

Not everyone can share his idea of ​​fun.

“Everything in sports is fun. I’m extremely tired and then I want to throw up,” he said.

“Having all sorts of problems with lactate… that’s okay. It’s not fun at the time, but after half an hour you don’t want to kill yourself anymore and you feel like it’s all worth it.”

Popovici was nine when he joined the swimming club where Radulescu trains.

Popovici is only 17 years old. (Photo Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP)Source: AFP

“He wasn’t the easiest to train, mostly looking for fun, skipping his move… But there was something special about him, he was very competitive.”

“He must have been ten years old, we held a competition for swimmers of the same age,” the coach recalled.

“Swimming 25 meters and being eliminated last… Every time David finished second to last. They wanted to prove that they were good in front of him, they were tired. In the final race, the other survivor was so tired that David won.”

Popovici is unusually thin for a top swimmer.

“David has a keen sense of water,” Radulescu said.

“It’s not about how much power you can put out, but how you can put it into the speed you put out. So yes, he’s very thin, but he’s got enough strength to swim at higher speeds.”

But added the coach, Popovici’s character will change.

“He’ll be 18 in September, his body will grow, he’ll develop into a man’s size. It’s a challenge… finding the right balance between power and efficiency.”

Popovici already has a nickname: ‘The Magician’.

“When I was younger I was into magic and card tricks and illusions and stuff, but not anymore. It was a little hobby before swimming,” he explained.

“But yeah, some people have called me The Magician because of what I do in the pool, but then again, I don’t think that represents me. I like to think of myself as a simple guy who just swims fast.’

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