David Popovici is just 17-years-old, but in the last two months the swimmer’s life has transformed. In early June he was, in his own words, “not very famous” but now he is not only one of the most recognisable faces in his country, but has become his sport’s new ‘pin-up’ boy.
The Romanian claimed two shock World titles at Budapest 2022 Fina World Championships and followed that up with four gold medals at his home European junior championships just weeks later.
At the Roma 2022 he added further honours to his impressive list of accomplishments with a European 100m and 200m freestyle double – oh and a stunning new world record in the former of those!
LEN TV sat down with Popovici to discover what drives the freestyler and how he is coping with his new ‘superstar’ status.
WATCH – David Popovic break a 13-year-old 100m freestyle world record at Roma 2022
Q – How has your life changed back at home in Romania since the start of the year?
“Before I was a little bit famous in Romania, let’s say three or four out of 10 people recognised me, now it’s 10 out of 10. Everywhere, in restaurants, on the street.”
“It’s tiring, a little more than swimming, but I don’t watch any of my interviews, I don’t watch myself on TV and I have taken a break from social media.”
“People do recognised me though and it’s strange because if I want to walk on a crowded street I have to be prepared that people will want to take pictures and that’s fine, it’s certainly not a problem, I like the fact that people appreciate me.”
“But if I have to go somewhere (quickly) I go there by bike, or with a cap, sunglasses and mask on!”
Q – Just how hard have you had to work for this success and how important have the sacrifices you’ve made been to your titles?
“For me, sacrifice means living a hard life, where I have to wake up in the morning, train even if I don’t want to, push myself beyond human limits.
It is simply what you are willing to do that others are not. That includes having a different lifestyle in terms of eating, sleeping and partying. You can’t do what a normal guy does.
Sometimes I would like to go to parties but then I remember that I have training in the morning and I think about who I am, what I am doing and I say no to myself.”
“Everything is fun though, sport is fun. Getting very tired to the point of almost wanting to throw up and having lactic acid issues and blood in your head, that’s fun.
It’s not fun at the moment but half an hour later, when the pain is no longer unbearable, it’s fun. You feel like it was all worth it.”
WATCH – Popovici storm to 200m European gold in a new world junior record
Q – Many compare you to four-time Olympic champion Alexander Popov as a 100m swimmer, what does that mean?
“He was a pioneer in the swimming world, the first athlete to go under 22 seconds in the 50m, a fantastic swimmer in the 100m as well and then there is the great similarity in our last names: Popov-Popovici, which helps in the comparison.”
“It’s an honour to be compared to him, but I have to say I’ve been compared a little bit to everyone, from Thorpe to Phelps and pretty much all superlatives have been used to describe me.”
“I like all these athletes but honestly they don’t represent me. I want to be myself. The first David Popovici.”
Q – How please are you with your achievements at Roma 2022 and have your surprised even yourself?
“It (the 100m world record), wasn’t a priority but the atmosphere helped me.
“After the (100m) world record the attention was huge. I think what helped me to stay focused was that I avoided checking the social media. As positive as it can be, social media can be toxic as well. I knew I would have had a hard time falling asleep, so I think that was a good decision.
“The 200m one (world record) is a little bit harder if you ask me, but I’m very excited because I can see the potential and I can see us as in me and my coaches working harder and becoming even better at this event and at one point breaking this world record as well.”
Q – How much have you enjoyed Rome and what are your plans for the rest of 2022?
“The architecture of Rome is beautiful and the streets are beautiful, I can say it looks a little bit like Bucharest. The atmosphere and culture are very nice, so overall I really like it.
“For this year? I think I have achieved what I wanted at the World championships, but why stop here? All I want from this competition and the upcoming Junior World Championships in Peru (August 30 – September 4) is simply to have fun.”
“The medals, the records, the good times are just a bonus. My plan is to keep on working hard and going forward, step by step.”