World Championships Preview: Men’s Sprint Freestyle: Can David Popovici Lower World Record Again? (Predictions)


Photo: David Popovici (right) with Maxime Grousset after the 100 freestyle final at the 2022 World Championships — Photo Courtesy: Andrea Staccioli / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

Our Class of 2023 Honorees keep coming up in articles about the World Championships. Yesterday it was Bob Bowman and today it is Sprinter Cesar CIelo. Read on…….. Who will it be tomorrow?

by DAVID RIEDER – SENIOR WRITER

19 July 2023, 06:35am

World Championships Preview — Men’s Sprint Freestyle: Can David Popovici Lower World Record Again?

For five years, the men’s sprint freestyle events were the domain of Caeleb Dressel. The American swept gold medals in the 50 and 100 free at the 2017 and 2019 World Championships and again at the 2021 Olympics, although world records narrowly eluded his grasp. His last two 100-meter wins were by tiny margins over Kyle Chalmers, the 2016 Olympic champion who developed a reputation as the best finisher in the world in these races.

But now, the best finishing speed, the world title and the world record all belong to David Popoviciwho broke Cesar Cielo’s suit-aided world record in the 100 free last year after the 46.91 was untouched for 13 years. Popovici returns to the world level as the heavy favorite to defend his title. While Dressel will be absent from Fukuoka, the 18-year-old Popovici will get a push from 25-year-old Chalmers, still looking for the first individual long course world title of his impressive career.

Meanwhile, a host of new contenders have emerged in the splash-and-dash, with reigning world champion Ben Proud leading the way and 2012 Olympic gold medalist Florent Manaudou, now 32, still a threat.

Men’s 50 Freestyle
WR20.91Cesar Cielo FihloBRASao Paolo (BRA)Dec. 18, 2009
CR21.04Caeleb DresselUSAGwangju (KOR)July 27, 2019
WJR21.75Michael AndrewUSAIndianapolis (USA)Aug. 25, 2017
=WJR21.75Michael AndrewUSAIndianapolis (USA)Aug. 26, 2017
Men’s 100 Freestyle
WR46.86David PopoviciROURome (ITA)Aug. 13, 2022
CR46.91Cesar CieloBRARome (ITA)July 30, 2009
WJR46.86David PopoviciROURome (ITA)Aug. 13, 2022

Contenders:

Jack Alexy (USA): Fresh off an impressive sophomore season at Cal, which included a second-place finish in the 100-yard free at the NCAA Championships, Alexy posted a huge performance at U.S. Nationals. He came out on top of an extremely tight 100 free final and placed second in the 50 free. He currently ranks fourth in the world in the 50 free (21.63) and seventh in the 100 free (47.75). Contending in: 50 free & 100 free

Lewis Burras (GBR): The British champion in both sprint events, Burras was seventh in the 50 and 100 free at last year’s Worlds, setting a national record of 47.63 in the semifinals. He also won 50 free silver at the Commonwealth Games. Contending in: 50 free & 100 free

Gui Caribe (BRA): This 20-year-old had a strong freshman year at Tennessee and is looking to translate his success into long course. His best times in the 50-meter pool are 21.87 (50 free) and 47.82 (100 free), making him a possible spoiler at Worlds. Contending in: 50 free & 100 free

Kyle Chalmers (AUS): Chalmers has been winning international medals in the 100 free since his teenage years, and he has sparkled over the last two years. After knocking off a 13-year-old short course world record in the fall of 2021, Chalmers won Commonwealth gold and a short course world title in 2022. His top time this year of 47.44 is less than four tenths off his best (47.08) and second globally. He will surely be ready to shine in the final in Fukuoka. Contending in: 100 free

Jordan Crooks (CAY): A huge wildcard here. Swimming for the University of Tennessee, Crooks was the NCAA champion in the 50-yard free as he became the second-fastest man ever behind Dressel. He was also the short course world champion in the 50 free last December. But Crooks has yet to show off that speed in long course. Contending in: 50 free

Maxime Grousset (FRA): This 24-year-old was the Worlds silver medalist in the 100 free last year and bronze medalist in the 50 free after winning a swim-off to secure his spot in the final of the splash-and-dash. Grousset currently ranks fourth in the world in the 100 free at 47.82, and he swam as fast as 21.78 in the 50 free in June. Contending in: 50 free & 100 free

Ryan Held (USA): A member of the gold-medal-winning 400 free relay team for the United States back in 2016, Held will race individually at a major international long course meet for the first time after winning the 50 free at U.S. Nationals in 21.50, the second-quickest time in the world this year. Held ranks fifth globally in the 100 free (47.63) but did not qualify to race the event in Fukuoka. Contending in: 50 free

Hwang Sunwoo (KOR): He’s better in the 200 free, where he won silver at last year’s Worlds, but the 20-year-old Korean was fourth in the 100 free in Rio and has a season-best time of 47.78. Contending in: 100 free

Josh Liendo (CAN): The 100 free bronze medalist at Worlds last year and Commonwealth Games bronze medalist in the 50 free. Liendo has a better world-title chance in butterfly, but he has quickly become one of the best sprint freestylers in the world as well. His season-best times are 21.80 and 47.86, but he shined collegiately for the University of Florida, becoming the second-fastest man ever in the 100-yard free (40.28). Contending in: 50 free & 100 free

Florent Manaudou (FRA): Eleven years after his stunning Olympic gold in London, Manaudou remains a force in the one-lap race following a pair of Olympic silvers and a swift 21.56 earlier this year, good for third in the world. Contending in: 50 free

Cameron McEvoy (AUS): When McEvoy last raced internationally, he placed 24th in the 100 free at the Tokyo Olympics and 29th in the 50 free. After a year away, the 29-year-old from Queensland has reinvented himself as a 50-meter specialist. He scorched a 21.27 at Australian Trials to become the fastest man in the world by more than two tenths and move into a tie for 11th all-time. Contending in: 50 free

Alessandro Miressi (ITA): Miressi has been the top Italian in the 100 free for several years, placing fifth in Tokyo and eighth last year in Budapest, a meet where he anchored the Italian men’s 400 medley relay to upset gold over the Americans. Contending in: 100 free

Pan Zhanle (CHN): After missing a medal in the World Championships final last year by eight hundredths, Pan broke out earlier this year with a 47.22 swim at Chinese Nationals, becoming the 11th-fastest man ever in the event and a real medal contender for Fukuoka. Contending in: 100 free

David Popovici (ROU): The world-record holder and big favorite for gold in the 100 free. Popovici surely will not be first at the halfway point, but he cannot be stopped on the home stretch. On the way to his 46.86 last year, Popovici closed in 24.12. Not even Chalmers can approach that speed on the second lap. Contending in: 100 free

Ben Proud (GBR): The 50 free defending champion as well as Commonwealth Games and European Championships winner last year. Proud’s best time is 21.11, fourth-best ever and well ahead of anyone else in the heat. The 50 free is a tight field where any mistake can determine a winner or an entire podium, but Proud’s experience makes him the slight favorite. Contending in: 50 free

Matt Richards (GBR): In a breakout performance at the British Championships earlier this year, Richards swam a 100 free time of 47.72, ranked sixth in the world entering Fukuoka. Contending in: 100 free

Flynn Southam (AUS): The only teenager among the threats in either sprint event, Southam finished only three tenths behind Chalmers at Australian Trials, closing in on the veteran at the end while swimming a time of 47.77, eighth-best in the world. Contending in: 100 free

Szebasztian Szabo (HUN): Szabo placed fourth in the 50 free at last year’s Worlds, his time of 21.60 only three hundredths away from the podium. Contending in: 50 free

Predictions:

Men’s 50 Freestyle

Gold: Ben Proud (GBR)
Silver: Cameron McEvoy (AUS)
Bronze: Florent Manaudou (FRA)

The 50 free is a crapshoot, as always, but Proud has done a nice job coming through in major races. Other than this trio, Held has the best chance of making a podium run.

Men’s 100 Freestyle

Gold: David Popovici (ROU)
Silver: Kyle Chalmers (AUS)
Bronze: Pan Zhanle (CHN)

Look for Liendo and Grousset to be really close to returning to the podium. Popovici finishes just off the world record but does go sub-47 again, finishing two tenths ahead of Chalmers.

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