David Popovici Pops 46.98 European Record In Rome 100 Free Semis; At 17 The First Teenage Member Of Sub-47 Club

2022-08-12 Reading Time: 6 minutes
David Popovici - eye on the prize - (Photo by Patrick B. Kraemer / MAGICPBK)

David Popovici, 17, is staring greatness in the face, a 46.98sec European record in the semi-finals of the 100m freestyle here in Rome makes him the fourth man to race inside 47sec, the second to do so unassisted by a suit – and the youngest ever to do so, by a chunk.

David Popovici - by Matei But a, courtesy of arena
David Popovici – by Matei But a, courtesy of arena

The schoolboy’s new high bar was a World Junior record, too. But, to be honest, who cares? As Popovici steps up to his blocks in Peru for his fourth international this summer, the World juniors later this season, he will doubtless enjoy his last dance of youth but his mind, body and soul are already well beyond all of that, as in, something like:

“When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”

Corinthians 13:11 image: David Popovici , the gold, the flag, the 100-200 sprint double, the prospects lighting this way to Paris 2024 (Photo by Patrick B. Kraemer / MAGICPBK)

The 46.91 shiny suit standard of Cesar Cielo from 2009 in this same pool and the 46.96 world best by Caeleb Dressel in 2019 remain the flag-bearers of there-and-back speed on freestyle.

Popovici, who clocked 47.20 for the fastest heats time in history in prelims this morning, is grinding them down with every passing stroke towards what feels like destiny as one of the great pioneers of his sport. The youngest ever holder of the 100m world record is Frenchman Alex Jany, who was 18 years and 9 months old when he set the global 100m mark in 1947.

David Popovici has a little time on his hands yet – and, should he take down the records at any age would also be the first Romanian to hold the World record (but not the first born in a place now a part of Romania and from Romanian-Hungarian roots – see note on Johnny Weissmuller below).

Out in 22.93, home in 24.05, Popovici was in a league of his own, second through to the showdown Kristof Milak, the Hungarian Olympic and World 200 ‘fly champion, on 47,76 at the helm of the first line-up.

Coached by “Mr. Adi”, as he still calls Adrian Rădulescu, a former swimmer with a PhD in athletic performance, David Popovici had a blistering answer and will enter the final as a defending champion who was 16 when he claimed the crown a year ago in Budapest as a warm-up for the 100-200m free double in the same pool in Hungary this past June.

Popovici described his stunning effort today as “okay”, adding: “It’s a fine route to the final and a step towards the right direction. It feels normal for me to go step by step and keep improving my time.”

On the eve of the championships,. He was asked ion the 200 free world record of 1:42.00 set by German’s Paul Biedermann here in Rome at the height of the shiny suits circus a year after he was denied the booster poly suits of Beijing 2008, was vulnerable. Popovici said:

“I think it’s a little bit harder than the one in the 100, for sure. What Paul Biedermann did in Rome 2009 was an absolutely amazing race, a very weird race from the technical point of view. In terms of the splits: they were almost even splits, if not equal splits. It’s a hard record but I don’t think it’s impossible.”

David Popovici – by Matei Buta, courtesy of arena

After the 100m, Popovici will contest the 200 – and the 400 – here in Rome: 100-200-400, Ian Thorpe territory.

The 400: expectations? “I truly don’t know. It will be nice defending my titles in the 100 and the 200 but for the 400 I really don’t know because it’s a new challenge. We wanted to try it and what better place to try it than here, where I have some competition and the pool, has this much history.”

Did he take an interest in how rivals raced? “Sometimes, especially when doing a new race, it’s important to know what to expect from the others but at the end of the day, and I think this is what swimming is about: it’s about racing yourself and the clock. When trying something new, it’s important to know what the strategies of the others more or less are.” He added:

“In general, at almost every meet, I just do me. Everyone can do themselves. If I manage to do me correctly, I’m probably going to win.”

David Popovici – by Matei Buta, courtesy of arena

Popovici Shadows Shiny Suits Pace Where the 2009 Circus Unfolded

A reflection of the main pool seen on Marina Ribi’s shiny suit, the Swiss swimmer in a Jacked.01 at the Rome 2009 World Championships in August that year, the Foro Italico’s pool-linking tunnel used for the kit-makers stalls where swimmers without a shiny suit could queue to get a used one in temperatures of more than 40C – Photo by Patrick B. Kraemer / MAGICPBK

It was here at the same, magnificent, Foro Italico pool in Rome on a similar sunny evening on July 30 back in 2009 that Cielo crashed through the 47sec barrier with a 46.91 World record that stands to this day.

The Brazilian Olympic 50m champion of Beijing 2008 went through the rounds in 47.98 (8th) and 47.48 (2nd) before he held hands with the cutting edge of shiny suits and the ‘surfdom’ they delivered to the sport courtesy of poor oversight by governors.

Cielo’s time was inside the 46.94 that Alain Bernard, Olympic 100m champion from Beijing, clocked at French nationals that year. Bernard’s blast was never ratified as a world record because he had the wrong type of shiny suit on, his 100% non-textile garment available to those who could get one in Rome just weeks later but not yet approved by FINA at the time of French nationals.

Bernard’s time remains the swiftest by a European swimmer but not the European record. In other circumstances, it might be argued that the French swimmer is the Alpha male of European speed. But then that c Ould only be said in the context of the suits of the time.

As such, Cielo became the first official breaker of the 47sec mark and holder of a sub-47sec World record: the record he broke was the 47.05 clocked by Australian Eamon Sullivan in semi-finals at the Beijing Olympic Games on his way to silver (in 47.32) behind Bernard (47.21) and ahead of a snap for bronze, Cielo and American Jason Lezak (47.67).

All of that is part of the World record progression and history of the 100m freestyle – and our list below starts with the first sub-minute world record, set by an American with Romanian connections: Johnny Weissmuller.

A touch of Tarzan family history: Johann Peter Weißmüller was born on June 2, 1904, in Freidorf, in the Hungarian part of Austria-Hungary (now in Romania) into an ethnically Banat Swabian family. Three days later he was baptized into the Catholic faith by the Hungarian version of his German name, as János. Early the next year on January 26, 1905, he embarked on a twelve-day trip on the S.S. Rotterdam to Ellis Island alongside his father, Peter Weißmüller, and mother, Elisabeth Weißmüller (née Kersch). Soon they arrived in Windber, Pennsylvania, to live with family. Johnny’s brother Peter was born the following September.

Somewhere down the line, a swimmer emerged … and the rest if swimming history.

The 100m Freestyle World Record Club Popovici Wants To Be A Member Of

TimeNameNationalityDateoftheSwim MeetCity/Country
58.6Johnny WeissmullerUSA9 Jul 1922Alameda, California, United States
57.4Johnny WeissmullerUSA17 Feb 1924Miami, United States
56.8Peter FickUSA2 Mar 1934Yale University Swimming CarnivalNew Haven, United States
56.6Peter FickUSA5 Mar 1935Yale University Swimming CarnivalNew Haven, United States
56.4Peter FickUSA 11 Feb 1936Yale Benefit Event for the United States Olympic teamNew Haven, United States
55.9Alan FordUSA13 Apr 1944Special record attemptNew Haven, United States
55.8Alex JanyFRA 15 Sep 1947Menton, France
55.4Alan FordUSA 29 Jun 1948New Haven Swim Club team time trialNew Haven, United States
54.8Dick ClevelandUSA1 Apr 1954AAU ChampionshipsNew Haven, United States
55.4Jon HenricksAUS30 Nov 1956Olympic GamesMelbourne, Australia
55.2John DevittAUS19 Jan 1957New South Wales State ChampionshipsSydney, Australia
54.6John DevittAUS 28 Jan 1957Queensland State ChampionshipsBrisbane, Australia
54.4Steve ClarkUSA18 Aug 1961Men’s NAAA ChampionshipsLos Angeles, United States
53.6Manuel dos SantosBRA 20 Sep 1961WR record attempt by the CR GuanabaraRio de Janeiro, Brazil
52.9Alain GottvallèsFRA 13 Sep 1964Budapest, Hungary
52.9Steve ClarkUSA14 Oct 1964Olympic GamesTokyo, Japan
52.6Ken WalshUSA27 Jul 1967Pan American GamesWinnipeg, Canada
52.6Zac ZornUSA2 Sep 1968USA Olympic Trials (unoff’ elec. 52.58)Los Angeles, United States
52.2Michael WendenAUS19 Oct 1968Olympic GamesMexico City, Mexico
51.94Mark SpitzUSA23 Aug 1970AAU ChampionshipsLos Angeles, United States
51.47Mark SpitzUSA5 Aug 1972USA Olympic TrialsChicago, United States
51.22Mark SpitzUSA3 Sep 1972Olympic GamesMunich, West Germany
51.12Jim MontgomeryUSA21 Jun 1975AAU World Championship TrialsLong Beach, United States
51.11Andy CoanUSA3 Aug 1975An Amateur Athletic Union Region Four meetFort Lauderdale, United States
50.59Jim MontgomeryUSA23 Aug 1975AAU ChampionshipsKansas City, United States
50.39Jim MontgomeryUSA24 Jul 1976Olympic GamesMontreal, Canada
49.99Jim MontgomeryUSA25 Jul 1976Olympic GamesMontreal, Canada
49.44Jonty SkinnerRSA14 Aug 1976AAU ChampionshipsPhiladelphia, United States
49.36Rowdy GainesUSA3 Apr 1981Longhorn InvitationalAustin, United States
49.24Matt BiondiUSA6 Aug 1985USA Summer NationalsMission Viejo, United States
48.95Matt BiondiUSA6 Aug 1985USA Summer NationalsMission Viejo, United States
48.74Matt BiondiUSA24 Jun 1986USA World Championships TrialsOrlando, United States
48.42Matt BiondiUSA10 Aug 1988USA Olympic TrialsAustin, United States
48.21Alexander PopovRUS18 Jun 1994International Swimming Meeting of Monte CarloMonte-Carlo, Monaco
48.18Michael KlimAUS16 Sep 2000Olympic GamesSydney, Australia
47.84Pieter van den HoogenbandNED19 Sep 2000Olympic GamesSydney, Australia
47.60Alain BernardFRA21 Mar 2008European ChampionshipsEindhoven, Netherlands
47.50Alain BernardFRA22 Mar 2008European ChampionshipsEindhoven, Netherlands
47.24Eamon SullivanAUS11 Aug 2008Olympic GamesBeijing, China
47.20Alain BernardFRA13 Aug 2008Olympic GamesBeijing, China
47.05Eamon SullivanAUS13 Aug 2008Olympic GamesBeijing, China
46.94&Alain BernardFRA23 Apr 2009French National ChampionshipsMontpellier, France
46.91César CieloBRA30 Jul 2009World ChampionshipsRome, Italy

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