David Popovici the ‘underdog?’ Teen sensation returns to racing at FINA Worlds

David Popovici will seek his maiden World Short Course medal at Melbourne 2022 – Simone Castrovillari / LEN

“It’s good coming here knowing that I’m not actually the best,” says a grinning David Popovici ahead of the FINA World Swimming (25m) Championships in Melbourne. He then pauses, before adding “yet.”

The Romanian has enjoyed a breath-taking break-through year with 100m and 200m freestyle victories – in senior as well as junior events – at each of the respective World and European Championships.

The latter also saw him break a 13-year-old senior long course (50m pool) world record in the 100m free. However, despite those successes the 18-year-old insists he is not a gold medal favourite at Melbourne 2022.

That ‘title’ – particularly in the 100m freestyle – Popovici insists goes to Australian rival and home favourite Kyle Chalmers, who is the current short course (25m pool) world record holder in the event.

“Me and Kyle, there is a rivalry, but for now I believe that it is only in long course but that’s why I’m here, I want to learn and I want to be better in short course and in the coming years I want to be able to race against him head-to-head in a few years,” said the swimmer.


Popovici claimed 200m freestyle gold at the 2021 LEN European short course Championships in Kazan, Russia, but finished 14th in the event at the World (25m) Championships in Abu Dhabi the following month.

I don’t think it’s a bluff I don’t like short course that much I’m built for long course but this a great opportunity and we wanted to be here to gather information, gain experience and be the best version (of myself) I can.

Take everything can I in terms of learning more information starts and turns which are more intense here, gain the information & transform that into long course which I prefer more.

“My goal is qualifying for the final, because as we all know, if you have a lane you have a chance, that’s my mentality for this competition.”

Popovici is without doubt the most talked-about swimmer the world at present and the impact of his astounding victories have been compared to the successes achieved by Michael Phelps early in his career.

That has naturally led to the Romanian attaining a rapid increase in attention, with expectation around his performances building each time he competes.

Simone Castrovillari / LEN

The swimmer himself admits there have been challenges adjusting to his new found fame and told LEN earlier this year that he often uses a cap, glasses and mask to disguise himself in his homeland.

“At first the attention was very fun and I think everyone when they were little has fantasies about what it would be like getting recognised on the streets and it’s been fun to begin with, but it’s gotten a bit overwhelming especially at home,” he admits.

“It happened everything at once, but I’ve been working on perfecting how I deal with all of the attention and I’m getting used to it.”

Popovici is expected to contest the 100, 200 and 400m freestyle events in Melbourne and is hoping to “enjoy” the event away from the “high pressure” environments experienced at the long course major championships earlier in 2022.

“I’ve had such a successful year and I’ve been the favourite for so many junior and senior events so it’s good coming here knowing that I’m not actually the best, yet,” he says.

“I live for racing as well and know I won’t be the crowd favourite here, but I’m okay with that and I’m pumped for this competition!”