Five things to know about David Popovici: The Romanian swimmer destined for greatness

The 17-year-old is the breakout star of the 2022 FINA World Championships after winning the prestigious men’s 200 freestyle title. But what else do you know about the Romanian phenom?

By Andrew Binner

Revelation, prodigy, and a swimming phenomenon are just some of the terms being used to describe David Popovici after his performance at the 2022 FINA World Championships.

The 17-year-old Romanian’s name rarely featured in any pre-event conversations regarding the favourites to win gold medals in Budapest, Hungary.

But he became an overnight sensation after storming to the men’s 200m freestyle title with a new junior world record of 1.43.21.

A day later, he clocked 47.13 to break the men’s 100m freestyle world junior record as well.

Razvan Florea is the only Romanian male athlete that’s ever won an Olympic medal - 200 backstroke bronze at Athens 2004. The eastern European nation believes it now has a potential gold medallist at Paris 2024.

Confident, mature, and humble, Popovici is set to be a star for years to come.

But what else do you know about the Bucharest-born prodigy, who was the youngest member of the 100 and 200 freestyle finals at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics?

1 - Using swimming to correct a back issue

Popovici started swimming in Bucharest at the age of four for two main reasons.

Firstly, his parents thought it would tire out an easily-bored child and help him sleep better.

Secondly, the sport was suggested by a doctor who thought that it would help correct Popovici’s early stage scoliosis - a condition in children where the spine twists and curves to the side.

He was a natural in the water, which helped to build his confidence.

At the age of 10, he broke his first national record in the 50m backstroke. Four years later he became the fastest under-15 swimmer at the European Youth Olympic Festival, clocking 49.82 in the 100 freestyle.

2 - David Popovici: The Steph Curry of swimming

Now 17, Popovici stands 1.90 metres tall and weighs 80 kg. His wingspan is an impressive 2.05 meters. He is simply made to swim fast.

“I think there are layers to him,” two-time Australian Olympian Brett Hawke said on his podcast.

“I think the first thing that has to be there is a freaky gift, and he has a gift. He has a physique like a young basketball player. Huge hands. Huge feet. He’s physically built differently. Then you have his feel for the water. When you watch him swim, he has an Anthony Ervin feel.

“He is one in a million. He has this ability to put his hand in the water and be unlike any other swimmer. He has a natural, aquatic feel. He’s Steph Curry shooting a 3-pointer. You can’t replicate it. You can try, but you can’t. And when you add everything up, he has something special.”

Golden State Warriors basketball star Steph Curry was the 2022 NBA Finals MVP.
Picture by 2022 Getty Images

3 - “An ordinary guy capable of doing extraordinary things.”

Shortly after winning the men’s 200m freestyle world title at the 2022 FINA World Championships in Budapest, Popovici was asked: “What is the secret to your success?”

Without hesitating, the well-spoken teenager smiled and replied:

"Simply my fiery passion for swimming and hard work. It's basic but if you combine hard work with passion, then the stars will at one point align for you,” he told Olympics.com after that race.

"I like to think that I'm an ordinary guy capable of doing extraordinary things. But I don't think I'm special or better than anyone at all. I'm a human, I just swim fast."

4 - Idolising Ian Thorpe and Michael Phelps

There can be no greater compliment as a male swimmer than to be compared to Ian Thorpe or Michael Phelps.

Unsurprisingly, many are hailing Popovici as a swimmer that has all the attributes to follow in their footsteps, and become a multi-Olympic champion.

But rather than get caught up in the hype, the Romanian prodigy humbly accepted the praise and even asked the Australian legend to be a part of his first world title.

"It's an honour and very flattering to be compared with Ian Thorpe. He said that if I win gold he would award the gold medal to me on the podium! He's like an idol to me alongside Michael Phelps, like any other kid,” he continued.

5 - A model student

Despite being on the precipice of swimming greatness, Popovic knows that having interests outside of the sport is key to retaining balance.

After he is finished at school, the freestyle specialist wants to study psychology but is unlikely to take up any scholarship offers to move to the USA.

"I will continue in Romania because I want to stay with my coach and our chemistry is just way too important to compromise,” he said.

“In terms of studying, I like psychology. I like the human mind because I'm using it and I know what it can achieve when it's controlled well. I'm into human behaviour and anything the brain can do good and bad. The muscles play their part, but the brain is the biggest instrument in every good athlete."

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