Belgrade 2024: David Popovici treats the crowd to a masterclass with the third-fastest 100 free in history

Credit to: European Aquatics

David Popovici delivered the third-fastest 100m freestyle in history as he brought the crowd to its feet at the European Aquatics Championships.

Oleksandr Zheltiakov and Mykhailo Romanchuk claimed double gold for Ukraine on an evening when seven titles were contested at the Sports and Recreational Center Milan Gale Muškatirović.

Popovici was 17 and a double World champion when he set the swimming world alight with a World record of 46.86 en-route to the European title at Roma 2022.

That time was subsequently lowered to 46.80 by Pan Zhanle on the lead-off of the Chinese 4×100 free at the World Championships in Doha.

The Romanian had hinted at a special performance in the Serbian capital, going 47.90 in the prelims before posting 47.82 in the semifinals.

Come the final and Popovici was out in 22.79, turning 0.16 behind Nandor Nemeth of Hungary, but a blistering 24.09 second 50 propelled him into the wall in 46.88.

That was just 0.08 outside Pan’s WR and 0.02 off his own PB and former global standard.

“I just went as good as I could and the time wasn’t planned but again the time is never planned, only the strategy,” Popovici told European Aquatics.

“If you have a good strategy and you have it well planned, then you have more chances of success, I guess.”

Credit to: European Aquatics

Pan stunned the aquatics community when he cut 0.06 from Popovici’s World record in February.

Popovici has set his sights on one day reclaiming the record mark, saying: “I just got really close when I wasn’t really expecting it but I guess I’ve got to just trust myself more.

“So, yeah, getting close to it and when I found out that it had been lowered, at first I was a little taken aback but then it got me very hyped and eager to try and get as close to it as possible, maybe lower it in the future.

“It’s good being more of an underdog than before even I am though one of the favourites in the world: I am not the first one, not the fastest one, so that really motivates me.”

While Popovici was commanding the spotlight, Nemeth claimed second in 47.49, just 0.02 outside Kristof Milak’s Hungarian record of 47.47 set en-route to silver at Roma 2022.

Andrej Barna had the Serbian crowd cheering when he claimed bronze in 47.66, a national record.

Credit to: European Aquatics

Zheltiakov came through in the final metre to claim the men’s 200m backstroke title in the second-fastest time in the world this year.

He was third after 150m but split 28.65 to come past Apostolos Siskos of Greece at the death to win in 1:55.39 to 1:55.42.

Only Hugo Gonzalez has gone faster in 2024, the Spaniard clocking 1:55.30 to secure the world title in Doha.

Roman Mityukov, owner of the second-fastest time in the world coming into the meet, was third in 1:55.75.

“I don’t know, I think it is the last touch,” beamed Zheltiakov. “I need to say thank you to my family, to my team who support me with this preparation – and that is incredible.”

Turning his sights to his native Ukraine, the 18-year-old added: “This means so much for me and for my family.

“Over the past months, I trained in Dnipro, under rocket launches and constant threats.

“Honestly, I can’t really describe with words how happy I am now.”

Credit to: European Aquatics

Fellow Ukrainian Romanchuk was ahead by the 300m mark before going on to lead for the remainder of the 800 free.

The Olympic bronze medallist touched in 7:46.20, 2.39secs ahead of Dimitrios Markos who lowered his Greek record to 7:48.59.

Zalan Sarkany of Hungary came from fourth at 750m to edge the bronze in 7:49.29.

Romanchuk moved to Magdeburg in 2022 to train with Bernd Berkhahn’s group alongside the likes of Florian Wellbrock following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Having returned to his homeland, Romanchuk considered retirement and spent more than two months out of the pool.

After claiming his third European 800 title, he said: “Considering that I almost finished after Fukuoka (2023), and indeed stopped for two and a half months and started swimming just a month before Otopeni (European Short-Course Championships) I should be happy to get another European title.

“The time is not that good, maybe I had problems with my tactics but all in all, it’s a gold, the sixth one, and it sounds good to be called six-time European champion.

“This is my last championship, so I let the young guys go faster in the next one.”

Credit to: European Aquatics

Eneli Jefimova won an historic gold medal in the women’s 100m breaststroke as she claimed Estonia’s first European title in a long-course pool.

The 17-year-old had clinched an emotional landmark victory at the European Short-Course Championships in Otopeni, Romania.

On Wednesday, the European Junior champion led throughout to take the title in 1:06.41 ahead of Switzerland’s Lisa Mamie (1:07.15) and Olivia Klint Ipsa of Sweden (1:07.73).

“It’s very special for me, for Estonia, for my family, my coach also because it’s an Olympic event,” she said.

“And I got the European gold here and I’m very happy with this and very proud of this.

“I was a little bit nervous because yes it’s like Europeans and everyone is waiting for me (to win) a medal and even gold medal, but I was trying not to think about it and to do my job.”

Credit to: European Aquatics

Anastasia Gorbenko won her third gold of the championships when a scorching breaststroke leg guided her to an emphatic victory in the 400m individual medley.

Vivien Jackl, the 15-year-old European Junior champion, led by 2.49secs at halfway but a 1:07.73 breaststroke split propelled the Israeli into the lead.

She was never threatened thereafter and came home in 4:36.05 ahead of Hungarian pair Jackl (4:38.96) and Zsuzsanna Jakabos (4:40.24).

Gorbenko, who added gold to the two relay titles she had already claimed in Belgrade, is still trying to work out the best way to execute the long medley.

“The plan worked,” she said. “The time is more or less fine, perhaps I should have done a bit better.

“The fly and the breast are my strong strokes and I had to go out fast as I knew the Hungarians are really strong over the first half of the race, so I’m really happy with the win.”

Credit to: European Aquatics

Sara Junevik continued a fine Swedish tradition as she enjoyed a comfortable victory in the women’s 50m butterfly.

Since the race was introduced to the programme in 1999, Swedish women have won on all but three occasions.

Junevik was the only woman to break the 26sec barrier as she took the title in 25.68 ahead of Belgian Roos Vanotterdijk (26.08) and Anna Ntountounaki of Greece (26.18).

Credit to: European Aquatics

Hungary won the women’s 4x100m freestyle relay featuring an anchor leg of 53.67 by Nikolett Padar.

The quartet led for all bar the first 100m and finished in 3:36.77 to lower the national record that had stood since the super-suit era of 2009.

Denmark were second in 3:38.48 with Poland claiming bronze in 3:41.01.

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