By Nick Hope
World record-holder David Popovici hopes the 2023 European Short Course Championships will help inspire young swimmers in his homeland to realise they too can achieve their dreams in the pool.
Otopeni 2023, which runs from 5-10 December, will see the Romanian double world gold medallist return to the venue where he claimed four European Junior titles in 2022.
He is among a host of headline names who will battle it out for honours at the Olympic swimming complex, which is approximately 20km from the centre of capital city Bucharest.
Among the line-up are British Olympic champion trio Tom Dean, Duncan Scott and Matt Richards, as well as other major medallists Maxime Grousset (France), Louise Hansson (Sweden), Mykhailo Romanchuk (Ukraine) and Lana Pudar (Bosnia and Herzegovina).
“The most important thing is to put on a show, so that hopefully more kids will see it and be inspired,” Popovici tells European Aquatics.
“I remember going to meets when I was 12-years-old and I met Danas Rapšys and Katinka Hosszu; they came to an International Romanian Championships and seeing them there helped boost my motivation.
“If kids can see me like that as well, then it’s the best thing I can do for them.”
THE SUCCESSES, THE STRUGGLES AND THE LESSONS LEARNED
Popovici made his major breakthrough in 2022; achieving a clean sweep of 100m and 200m freestyle titles across European and World senior and junior championships.
The highlight? Unquestionably a stunning world record of 46.86 in the 100m freestyle at the Roma 2022 European Championships.
It saw the then 17-year-old down the previous mark of 46.91, which had been set by Cesar Cielo during the infamous ‘super-suit era’ in 2009.
However, the Romanian endured a more challenging return to the international circuit this year, finishing sixth and fourth in the respective 100m and 200m freestyle finals at the World Championships in Fukuoka, Japan.
“The way I see it, I had two options; be sad or angry about not winning, or try to learn why I didn’t win,” Popovici recalls of the moments after the conclusion of his race programme.
“I was so motivated that I wanted to get straight back to training the next day, but my coach forbade me to go to the pool, so I took a holiday.
“I had spent so much time travelling that I had never really had time to appreciate the full beauty of my country, with the mountains, countryside and people, so I stayed in Romania.
“I swam in lakes and rivers, so while I had a break from the pool, it wasn’t a break from the water and now I’m feeling good.
“It has been a busy year, with ups and downs, but I’m very motivated.”
Popovici continues: “I’d rather be an athlete who can learn something from losing and be a more complete athlete and with that a more complete human being.”
SHORT COURSE SUCCESS ‘NOW POSSIBLE’ FOR POPOVICI
Popovici rounded off 2022 with the World Short Course Championships in Melbourne, Australia, but admitted he had “low expectations” as his training was, at the time, almost exclusively focused on long course (50m pool) disciplines.
However, an impressive silver in the 200m freestyle changed his perspective and the teenager realised he “could also be successful” in a 25m pool as well.
This is something he aims to build on at the 2023 European Short Course Championships.
“For Melbourne we didn’t really train, we went to see what would happen but for this (Otopeni 2023) we have trained harder and put in a lot of effort which makes me excited.
“I’ve never been to a short course competition with big aspirations, but this one I think will be up there.
“I’m feeling good, the European Short Course will be interesting, I’m sure the organising committee are going to be great and we’ll do our best to be good hosts and put on a show!”
You will be able to follow all of the latest news and videos from Otopeni 2023 via the European Aquatics website and social media channels, with LIVE STREAMS available via All Aquatics.