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David Popovici: His Steep Rise to Greatness

Woori Lee

“If there's one person on the planet who will go below [the world record], it's Popovici,” was the words of legend Michael Phelps regarding an emerging phenom.

David Popovici has been making his case as the most feared swimmer of his discipline that the world has ever witnessed. But what makes him even more impressive is that his ambitious eyes resonate in the body of a still developing teenager ready to take on the world.

Born and raised in Romania, Popovici fell in love with the elegance of water at the age of 5, devoting his unwavering attention and care into the pool. Perfecting and correcting every day, he has a naturally hydrodynamic body, possessing a gangly 6’3’’ frame as well as large hands and feet. Dominating the freestyle swimming scene in his nation from the start, he quickly rose past the competition in a commanding fashion and landed himself in international junior meets as young as 10 years old. Later, his talent and hard work landed him in international competitions like the Olympics.

After entering the 2020 Tokyo Olympics with the top time in the world of 47.30—a newly minted world junior record in the 100m freestyle—expectations were sky-high for this 16-year old sensation. Unfortunately, Popovici fell to his nerves and lack of experience, finishing 7th in the 100 and just outside of medal contention in the 200m freestyle. But his performance at the Olympics propelled him forward.

Fast forward a year is when everything changed for the self-proclaimed ‘Skinny Legend’. A historic summer to say the least. First beginning with the biannual swimming world championships, he topped the field of the 100m and 200m freestyle races as just a 17 year old, obliterating two world junior records in the process. A few more impressive competitions illustrated his continual dominance, establishing 8 of the top 10 times of 2022.

The cherry on top to his summer had to be his world record in the 100m freestyle at the 2022 European Championships, which further proved his unmatched superiority in the pool. Beating a 13 year old world record previously held by Brazilian swimmer Cesar Cielo, his time of 46.86 bests every other swimmer. Along with a slew of remarkable performances, he went on to re-break his own world junior record in the 200m freestyle, touching in 1:42.97. Needless to say he surely has gotten a few more years of growth within him, as most professional male swimmers reach their prime in their early twenties.

Popovici eloquently preys on his opponents, slashing through the water with power. For the future, he seems to have grand plans in mind. “I wanted to go as fast as possible and it looks like I did it. A fantasy now might be a 45 [second time].”

The million dollar question now is what is left in store for Popovici. Will he be able to perfect his stroke even more to break his numerous records and get down to that 45 second time? Or will he fall into the trap of his fame and lose touch with his passion?


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