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Popovici fires Dressel with historic gold at the World Swimming Championships

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David Popovici became the first swimmer in half a century to become world champion in the 200 and 100 meter freestyle. His predecessor was the American Jim Montgomery in 1973, in the Neolithic age of professional swimming.

Few technicians were surprised. The Romanian is just 17 years old and his trajectory since they began tracking his tracks five years ago indicates an unusual advance in the history of watersports. His courageous defense of gold in the final meters of the 100m final at the World Championships in Budapest yesterday showed that alongside a privileged phenotype and genetics for gliding, he has the kind of ambition that consecrates the greatest. “The 100 meters brings out your wild side,” he said, “and I like that too.”

Popovici climbed onto the Duna Arena pool bench and stretched his 1.90 meter body with the flexibility of a fakir. The finale of the Queen event, the 100m freestyle, was fast approaching and none of the Tokyo Games finalists were by his side. Neither the American Caeleb Dressel, who was suddenly released for unknown medical reasons, nor the Australian Kyle Chalmers, nor the Russian Kliment Kolesnikov, who was exiled along with all his compatriots after the invasion of Ukraine. All the pressure was on him. A young Romanian in his teens as a representative of a country on the economic and political edge, without great infrastructure and hardly any swimming tradition, suddenly a national hero, faced with the challenge of his life.

Since Ian Thorpe became the youngest-ever world champion in Perth in 1998 at the age of 15, no freestyle swimmer has become more authoritarian than Popovici. Its origin is foreign: the Navi-Club, a swimming pool without much tradition in Bucharest, in a country that is very far from the sphere of influence of the great powers of this sport.

Popovici had just won the 200 with the second-best time ever wearing a textile swimsuit, completing Tuesday’s 100 semifinals in 41.13 seconds. Never before has a boy under the age of 18 swum the 50, 100 and 200 meter freestyle so fast. By the age of 13 he had swum the 50 in 22.22 seconds. Speed ​​giants like Ben Proud (22.65 at the age of 17), Alex Popov (22.87 at the age of 19), Gary Hall (23.40 at the age of 17) or Florent Manaudou (21.80 at the age of 19) were no longer on their own been able to pace in more mature ages.

Everything indicated that he would eat the crush that surrounded him at the 100 final in Budapest. However, the pressure of losing 47 seconds took its toll. In the semifinals he covered the first pitch in 22.81 seconds, but in the final he went all out and touched the top 50 plate in 22.72 seconds. Nine hundredths can be too much fuel when it comes to a teenager in training. The lap was steep: he returned in 24.86 seconds. “It was very long,” he admitted as he climbed out of the water. He hit the wall in a relatively mediocre time after Frenchman Maxime Grousset passed him by just a moment. Like the beasts of prey, he struck gold. He hit the final punch and touched the wall in 47.58 seconds. Grousset stayed at 47.64 seconds.

Popovici suffered to achieve his feat but never lost the style and poise that characterizes him. A prodigy of thrust efficiency, he gave up 30 shots in the first leg and 32 in the second leg. Cesar Cielo, the man who has held the current world record (46.91 seconds) since 2009 thanks to a swimsuit that helped him float, took 30 shots in the first leg and 36 on the return, a sign of doom. Dressel at the 2019 World Championships, when he fell from 47 seconds, had 19 strokes in the first leg and 35 in the second length.

“It’s like a fight”

“I enjoy swimming the 200 more than the 100 because the 200 is more tactical, although the training is much more difficult,” said Popovici, who speaks academic and articulate English, after the test. “In the 100 we have to go out very strong and come back as quickly as possible. The animal instinct comes into play. It’s not pure power like the 50, it has a tactical point, but the second 50 of the 100 is wild and that makes you suffer, but I like it.

“The last few meters of the 200 stages are usually less contested,” he looks back. “The last pitch on the 100 is like a fight. But I like the pressure, I like people screaming. i like the excitement I would have preferred Caeleb Dressel to be here today, and Kyle Chalmers and Kliment Kolesnikov. It would have been an honor and a challenge to swim with them. But I understand Caeleb. We are not machines!”.

David Popovici won gold while Caeleb Dressel, the great swimming star, flew to the United States and was suddenly fired, as announced by the United States Federation, “on medical grounds”, “unrelated to Covid”. In April, Dressel confessed that it was about overcoming depression.

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Source elpais.com

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