Men’s 200 Freestyle - David Popovici Answers the Hype With Other Worldly 1:43.21

Swimming might have just found its next superstar. At 17, David Popovici of Romania threw down a 1:43.21 in the final of the 200 freestyle to win his first ever international medal at the World Championships in Budapest.

Popovici, who burst onto the scene last year as a 16-year-old when he swam a 47.30 at the European Juniors, followed that up with the fastest 200 freestyle anyone has swum in 10 years. His time puts him fourth all-time, behind Paul Biedermann, Michael Phelps, and Yannick Agnel.

Popovici, who trains with coach Adrian Radulescu had shown a lot of speed in the first two rounds, and in the final when he turned at 49.96, he didn’t look like he had overexerted himself. In fact, he was hoping to be out a little slower than sub-50.

“(My goal) was to go out fast - not this fast,” Popovici said. “But I can surprise myself.”

And it was on the third lap where he pressed on the gas, pulling away from Great Britain’s Tom Dean, who flipped at 49.81. Popovici split a 26.31 on the third 50, and did not let up his lead, splitting a 26.9 on the last 50.

“The most fun is during the race because during the last lap I was saying to myself, ‘this is the biggest moment of my life thus far, and I want to make it memorable for me and everyone else,’” Popovici said.

Popovici is the first male swimmer representing Romania to win a gold medal at the world aquatics championships and is the second-youngest swimmer (17 years and 278 days old) to win the men’s 200m freestyle at the world aquatics championships, after Tim Shaw (USA, 17y-256d) in 1975.

Popovici’s teenage success has been compared to that of Ian Thorpe, who was an Olympic champion and world record holder before his 18th birthday some two decades ago.

“It’s an honor and very flattering to be compared to Ian Thorpe,” Popovici said. “I just met him, like, two days ago and he said if I’d win gold, he’d try to make it to award the gold medal to me. So I will see him soon.”

Thorpe, and fellow Romanian legend Camelia Potec were on hand to award him his first senior gold medal.

And Popovici isn’t done. At age 17, he is still eligible for all the junior competitions, where he will double up with the European and World Junior meets later this summer.

The race was notably without last year’s silver medalist in Great Britain’s Duncan Scott, who contracted COVID right before the meet, but the two will meet in mid-August in Rome at the European Championships.

Korea’s Hwang Sunwoo, who is another future star in the sport at just 19-years-old currently, won his first international long course medal with a silver at 1:44.47, while Dean backed up his surprising Olympic gold medal with a 1:44.98.

“It was a really tough race, and I took a big gamble at the beginning and I knew it would bite back in the end,” Dean said. “So congrats for David with 1:43, but overall I am happy.”

Hwang is the second swimmer representing Korea to pick up a medal at the world aquatics championships, after Park Tae-Hwan. Park was a bronze medalist in the 200 free in 2007.

“I’m very happy to break my personal best and to swim next to Popovici, was so exciting to compete against him,” Hwang said. “I’d like to congratulate him, it was a great race and I was very happy to bring down the national record too.”

Women’s 1500 Freestyle - Katie Ledecky Reclaims World Title In League of Her Own

For the fourth time, Katie Ledecky of the United States was the world champion in the 1500 freestyle, winning Monday night in Budapest with a 15:30.15. Ledecky was under her world record pace through 500 meters but couldn’t hold on to it as the race progressed, but she was far enough in front of the rest of the world. Ledecky wins her second gold of the meet after the 400 on Saturday night, giving coach Anthony Nesty his third gold in three days after Caeleb Dressel’s 50 fly win last night.

Fellow American Katie Grimes, age 16, won her first international medal with a silver at 15:44.89. It was a dejavu moment for Ledecky, who went 1-2 last year with Grimes’ former training partner Erica Sullivan at the Olympics. Grimes lowered her best time from 15:51 and now sits ninth all-time.

“I’m pretty happy with the second place, although I’m not that satisfied with the time,” Grimes said. “We had a solid plan with my coach and at the end that was good for this silver medal.”

“It was awesome,” Ledecky said of going 1-2 with Grimes. “I fully knew she was capable of getting that, and to see how far she has  come in a year and the maturity that she has, and how much energy she brings to the team…I don’t think I was like that when I was her age. It’s awesome to be on the blocks next to her and be in the lane next to her and to share this moment with her is really special.”

Grimes, 16 years and 163 days old, is the second-youngest medallist in this event at the world aquatics championships, after Katie Ledecky claimed gold at age 16 years and 135 days in 2013.

Australia’s Lani Pallister won her first international senior medal at 15:48.96 for bronze. It was in this pool in 2019 that Pallister was the world junior champion where she was named swimmer of the championships. Pallister nearly won her first medal in the 400 on Saturday, but was out-touched at the last stroke. She rebounded to lower her best time from 15:55 to 15:48 to get third.

Pallister is the first Australian medallist in this event at the world aquatics championships. The women's 1500m freestyle was the only women's event in which an Australian swimmer had not reached the podium at the worlds.

“It’s been quite a big race for me, in the end to get off seven seconds from my personal best,” Pallister said. “So I cannot be sad though it was really tight with Katie (Grimes) for quite a while.”

36-year-old Kristel Kobrich of Chile competed in her seventh 1500 final to place eighth at 16:20.24. Kobrich is making her 10th appearance at the World Championships, the most all-time for a swimmer.

“It’s incredible,” Ledecky said of Kobrich’s longevity. “I’m not going to be doing this when I’m 36. I told her after the race it was incredible. To make a final at Worlds at that age is incredible and it gives all of us a little perspective that distance swimmers can go long and have really stellar careers.”

Women’s 100 Backstroke - Regan Smith Dethrones Kylie Masse in Quest of Threepeat

American Regan Smith won a tight duel with Canadian Kylie Masse in the 100 back final with a 58.22 to Masse’s 58.40. Masse had come in as the two-time defending champion, winning in 2017 and in 2019, while Smith was the top seed gunning for the world record of 57.45 set last year by Australia’s Kaylee McKeown.

McKeown had surprisingly scratched this race to focus on the 200 IM on Sunday evening, as the Aussie had won gold in Tokyo last year over Masse and Smith. Had McKeown swum the final, iit was expected it might take a world record to win, with  Smith getting with 0.20 of McKeown’s record last night. But with McKeown out of the picture, Smith and Masse had a battle of their own, with Smith becoming the first World champion in the 100 back for the United States since Missy Franklin in 2013.

Smith gives coach Greg Meehan his second gold medal of the championships as she trains with 100 butterfly gold medalist Torri Huske.

“It’s a great feeling, it’s cool to be the 100m backstroke world champion,” Smith said. “I’m so pleased, the ultimate goal was the gold medal. I wasn’t quicker than yesterday, but the most important to win another gold to Team USA. It’s getting harder and harder to deal with the pressure because a lot of people (are) expecting me to deliver. I’ve been working a lot with a psychologist to survive this situation and it seems to be working.”

Masse wins her third straight medal, and her sixth Worlds medal overall, tying her for second all-time amongst Canadians with Penny Oleksiak as they trail Ryan Cochrane (8) in total number of medals.

“I’m really happy to stand on the podium, it’s always an incredible feeling to compete at World Championships and fight for the podium with these girls,” Masse said. “This is something I’m really proud of. Last year was really challenging so I’m happy to be here and swim again.”

The bronze went to Claire Curzan of the United States, who was the silver medalist at the World Juniors in 2019. Curzan swam a 58.67, which was not a best time, but her first at a major international meet.

“I’m really satisfied with the result, just to be in this field is a big honour and I can be really proud of what I have achieved,” Curzan said.

Men’s 100 Backstroke - Thomas Ceccon Takes Ryan Murphy’s World Record For First Global Mark of Meet

The record had stood for six years, with many taking a crack at it since the Rio Olympics, but the men’s 100 back world record had stood at 51.85 since 2016, with Ryan Murphy holding the title as the fastest man ever in the event.

But on Monday night in Budapest, Murphy’s world record was broken by Italy’s Thomas Ceccon, who swam a 51.60. Coming into the meet, Ceccon, age 21, had a 52.30 best time and swam a comfortable looking 52.12 in the semi-finals.

“I haven’t realised that I broke the world record,” Ceccon said. “I didn’t think of any record or time before the start, I just swam my own race. The water and the pool are excellent and it’s a fantastic thing when you break the world record in every sport – for me it’s simply unbelievable.”

In the final, Murphy had taken the race out hard at the 50, flipping under his own world record pace, with Ceccon right behind. But the Italian ran him down, splitting a 26.46 on the second 50, obliterating the world record by two tenths for the first global mark of the championships.

At the finish, Ceccon touched at 51.60, with Murphy in silver at 51.97 and USA’s Hunter Armstrong in bronze at 51.98. It was Ceccon’s first major international medal individually after finishing fourth in Tokyo.

“The American, I respect him because he has an Olympic gold medal and I am very proud to get this medal against him,” Ceccon said.

Murphy, despite relinquishing his world record, was extremely satisfied with his swim as it was the first time he was under 52 seconds in four years.

“I’m really happy. I was probably too amped up,” Murphy said. “I saw the splits after, so I guess I was really excited going out for it that first 50. That’s what happens when you’re in a heat like that. I knew there were a bunch of talented guys in there and I’m really happy with the way I executed. Hats off to Thomas - that’s a really, really fast time, and it’s going to be a fun couple of years.”

Murphy and Armstrong shared the podium, as the United States continued its strong showing at the championships with 18 medals at the moment.

“It’s incredible,” Murphy said of sharing the podium with Armstrong. “Hunter has had such a steep improvement curve in the sport and it is always fun to race guys like that. What I really appreciate of Hunter is he is incredibly genuine. When you talk to him, you know exactly what he is thinking and there’s no games there. I really appreciate Hunter and I enjoy sharing the pool deck with him.”

Armstrong becomes the fifth man to break 52 seconds in the event.

“It’s my first international final!” Armstrong said. “The first thing I looked at was the time. I’m still shocked Ceccon, not only broke the world record but crushed it. The next thing I looked for was Murph. He got me by a hundredth which hurts a bit but if anybody is going to get me, I’m glad it was those two.”

Ceccon, who trains with coach Alberto Burlina, becomes the second Italian male swimmer to hold a world record since Giorgio Lamberti.

Ceccon is the first Italian man to win a gold medal in a backstroke event at the world aquatics championships, and also backs up his strong junior career - he was the bronze medalist in the Youth Olympics in 2018.

“I could not expect this result but in training every day I try to do my best,” Ceccon said.

The race was notably without the top two swimmers from last year’s Olympics, Russia’s Evgeny Rylov and Kliment Kolesnikov, but Ceccon’s world record erased any doubts that swimming fans might have had that the fastest 100 backstroker in the world was instead sitting at home.

With Ceccon’s win and Nicolo Martinenghi’s breaststroke win last night, Italy’s medley relay, which won bronze in Tokyo, looks as strong as anyone’s in the world currently.

“We (will) try to make noise to the USA,” Ceccon said of the medley relay at the end of the week. The United States returns three of its four legs from last year’s world record-setting relay, while the Italians have all four swimmers returning in Budapest.

Women’s 100 Breaststroke - Benedetta Pilato Keeps Italy’s Momentum Rolling; Ruta Meilutyte Makes It Back to Podium

Italy has been on fire through three days of the 2022 FINA World Championships in Budapest, with 17-year-old Benedetta Pilato winning the nation’s third gold medal of the meet with a 1:05.92 in the 100 breaststroke.

Pilato is the youngest Italian swimmer to win gold at the world aquatics championships, breaking the record of Novella Calligaris who won the women’s 800m freestyle in 1973 at age 18.

“I’m super-super happy and proud, I’m so grateful for all,” Pilato said. “It was a dream, which came true tonight and I would like to say a big thank you for my coach and my whole team.”

Pilato, who had made the 50 breaststroke podium as a 14-year-old three years ago in Gwangju, won ahead of Germany’s Anna Elendt (1:05.98) and Lithuania’s Ruta Meilutyte (1:06.02).

Pilato’s swim gives the Italians a sweep in the 100 breaststroke after Nicolo Martinenghi’s gold last night in the men’s race.

Elendt is the first German woman to claim a medal in this event at the world aquatics championships since Jana Dörries (silver) in 1991.

“I’m really happy with the result,” Elendt said. “Actually, the aim was to be in the finals but this is something much bigger. The others were upfront after 50m but I kind of like to hunt, that’s my style. I was slower than yesterday but I can’t be really angry about it.

“I had a big shoulder injury this year, there were many ups and downs and had many treatments, and even at the college championships I was ill. But in the US I managed to find happiness in swimming and not even the cut on my head bothered me which I had got while I was packing mirrors in my apartment...”

“I’m happy with this result, I just got back to the pool six months ago,” Meilutyte said. “But I think it’s a deserved medal and a good result, and I’m so happy to have been able to achieve this. I’m enjoying to compete and swim, and I think I’ve never felt this before in my life. I truly recommend to every swimmer, and I do highlight this, to take a break from swimming and try to think and approach the sport in a totally different way. Try to save your mentality and personality, you need that for your mental health. Now I’ve come back as a different person with a different perspective and now I’m really enjoying what I’m doing.”

The main story of the race was the return of Meilutyte. The former world record holder was the world champion in 2013 when she was 16 years old and had initially retired from the sport in 2019 at age 22. It seemed that swimming had seen the last of her - after an Olympic gold medal at age 15, a world record and a world champs title at 16, she had achieved a lot in the sport. So what brought her back?

“I asked myself that question a lot. I really, really love swimming,” Meilutyte said. “I was curious about it and (it was) because I kept thinking about it and dreaming about it.”

Three years later, she made her way back to the podium after holding the unofficial lead at the 75-meter mark. As for expectations heading into Budapest, a podium wasn’t a part of that until she qualified for the final in fourth place.

“Hugely special,” Meilutyte said. “It just shows that everything is possible and it gives me the belief in myself. I was just relaxed and let it happen.”

Surprisingly, American Lilly King, who holds the world record and won the last two World titles, was fourth at 1:06.07.