ROME — 17-year-old David Popovici of Romania became the youngest swimmer to break the world record in the men’s 100m freestyle on Saturday, surpassing the mark set more than 13 years ago in the same pool.
Popovici scored in 46.86 seconds at the European Championships, beating the 46.91 set by Brazilian César Cielo at the 2009 World Championships, also held at Rome’s historic Foro Italico.
Cielo set his record on July 30, 2009 at the last major international meeting to allow rubberized suits. It held for longer than any record in the history of the event, dating back to 1905.
Now it belongs to one of the sport’s rising stars.
“There was no rush and I had to be extremely patient with the world record,” said Popovici. “It hurt but it’s always worth it and I’m feeling good right now. It felt great and it is very special to break this record.”
Cielo still holds the record in the 50 Free, which is one of the eight men’s long-distance standards left over from the rubber suit era. Five of them were set on these supercharged worlds from 2009.
Popovici retired in 22.74 and set the record by clocking 24.12 in the second half to easily beat Hungarian butterfly specialist Kristóf Milák by 0.61. Italy’s Alessandro Miressi took bronze in 47.63.
“It was a brilliant race, a pleasure to swim alongside David,” said Milák. “David is a fantastic swimmer, I think the same crazy freestyle genius I do in Butterfly. It’s great that his name will be in the headlines for many, many years to come.”
Popovici’s rise sets the stage for a potentially huge showdown at the Paris 2024 Olympics, where American star Caeleb Dressel – winner of five gold medals at last summer’s Tokyo Games – will compete as the reigning gold medalist in the 100 Free.
Popovic won the gold medals in the 100 and 200 at this year’s World Championships in Budapest. He didn’t get a chance to swim the 100 against Dressel, who retired from the event before the final due to health issues.
Milák, the world record holder in the 200m flight, is hoping to be part of the freestyle mix in Paris as well.
“My goal is very clear,” said Milák. “I just want to get to a level at this event to get to Paris 2024 and swim a time that’s somewhere very close to 47 seconds.”